OKLAHOMA CITY — Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. is asking a federal appeals court to block part of the federal health care law that requires the Christian family-owned arts and crafts company to provide insurance coverage for emergency contraception pills.
The Oklahoma City-based company asked the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block enforcement of the law, which will require Hobby Lobby and a sister company, Mardel, Inc., to cover the morning-after pill and week-after pill as part of employee health insurance plans beginning Jan. 1.
The company filed its appeal Tuesday, a day after a federal judge denied the request.
“There is a sense of urgency here,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby.
The company, which is self-insured, has said it will face a daily $1.3 million fine beginning Jan. 1 if it ignores the law.
Hobby Lobby is the largest business to file a lawsuit against the mandate. Founded in 1972, it now operates more than 500 stores in 41 states and employs more than 13,000 full-time employees who are eligible for health insurance coverage.
Hobby Lobby sued the government in September, claiming the mandate violates the religious beliefs of its Christian owners, the Green family. The owners maintain that the morning-after and week-after pills are tantamount to abortion because they can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s womb. They also object to providing coverage for certain kinds of intrauterine devices.
“Appellants engage in an undisputed exercise of religion: they refrain from providing insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs,” Hobby Lobby’s appeal states. “Yet the government puts appellants to an impossible choice: either give up the religious exercise, or pay millions in fines.”
In ruling against the company Monday, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton said churches and other religious organizations have been granted constitutional protection from the birth-control provisions, but “Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations.”
“Plaintiffs have not cited, and the court has not found, any case concluding that secular, for-profit corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion,” the ruling said.
But the companies’ appeal argues that members of the Green family run their businesses according to their religious faith, “and regularly engage in what can only be called exercises of religion.”
Among other things, Hobby Lobby takes out hundreds of full-page ads every Christmas and Easter celebrating the religious nature of the holidays, closes on Sundays to give employees a day of rest and excludes contraceptive devices and drugs that its owners maintain can cause abortion from its employee prescription drug coverage plan, according to the appeal.
“They exercise their personal religious faith in many ways in which that company is run,” Duncan said.
Heaton recognized that the Green family has sincere religious beliefs, but the judge ruled that complying with the new health care guidelines creates only an indirect burden on Hobby Lobby’s owners and it is not personal to them, he said.
In medical terms, pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the wall of the uterus. If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, the morning-after pill can reduce the chances of an egg implanting in a woman’s womb by as much as 89 percent.
Critics of the contraception say it is the equivalent of an abortion pill because it can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. The lawsuit also alleges that certain kinds of intrauterine devices can destroy an embryo by preventing it from implanting in a woman’s uterus.
At a hearing earlier this month, a government lawyer said the drugs do not cause abortions and that the U.S. has a compelling interest in mandating insurance coverage for them.