Jan 2, 2013

When Hobby Lobby decided it was opposed to providing birth control

As of today, the arts and crafts store Hobby Lobby, Inc., owes the federal government as much as $2.6 million. Tomorrow that may well be up to $3.9, and the day after tomorrow $5.2.

The company has committed to not paying these fines, claiming that they are being levied because the company refuses to compromise its religious beliefs about the evil of "abortion-causing" birth control.

As The Daily Oklahoman reports, the,
Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby will defy a federal law that requires employee health care plans to provide insurance coverage for types of contraception that the firm's owners consider to be “abortion-causing drugs and devices,” an attorney for the company said Thursday.

With Wednesday's rejection of an emergency stay of that federal health care law by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Hobby Lobby and sister company Mardel could be subject to fines of up to $1.3 million a day beginning Tuesday.

'They're not going to comply with the mandate,' said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the company. 'They're not going to offer coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in the insurance plan.'
This stand will likely mean the corporation is hailed as modern day martyrs by some Christian conservatives. They might receive the same show of support that the fast food restaurant Chik-fil-A got when the the company's Chief Operating Officer made statements opposing same-sex marriage. This action -- refusing to provide employee health insurance that includes coverage of certain sorts of birth control, and refusing to pay the fine for breaking the law -- will be understood and interpreted as a stand for the robustness of religious liberty.

It turns out, though, that the verb tense of the lawyer's defiant claim,  "They're not going to offer coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in the insurance plan," is pretty important. They're not "going to," in the future.

But they did, in the past.

Legally, the question in the lawsuit Hobby Lobby has filed against the Department of Health and Human Services is more esoteric. The question is whether or not for-profit corporations have religions and exercise religion in the way that's talked about in the First Amendment.

That question isn't particularly relevant to the bulk of those concerned about this case, but that is the question before the courts. Publicly, among those most closely following these developments, the case is understood as actually being about religious liberty in American and the Obama administration's alleged attempts to limit the meaning of "religious exercise" to mere matters of belief and acts of worship, so that anything else that's done as the practice or outworking of piety, such as running a business, can only be strictly secular. For these folks, Hobby Lobby's mounting, unpaid fines are testament to its bold defense of robust religious liberty.

As one opinion-writer depicts this match-up, this is nothing less than a "war against [the] principled sector of the national economy," where,
The federal government is imposing a $1.3 million daily fine to destroy the Green family’s business or otherwise coerce them into violating their sincerely held religious convictions about the life of the unborn.
One problem with that: the company only very recently stopped providing insurance coverage of the supposedly objectionable forms of birth control to its employees.

This strong, strong stance seems to date, actually, only from the time the company learned it would soon be required by law to provide the sort of health insurance that they were already providing.

Hobby Lobby is currently facing mounting millions of dollars of fines for refusing to do what it previously did voluntarily.

For the lawsuit the corporation filed:
Recently, after learning about the nationally prominent HHS mandate controversy, Hobby Lobby re-examined its insurance policy to ensure they continued to be consistent with its faith. During that re-examination, Hobby Lobby discovered that the formulary for its prescription drug policy included two drugs -- Plan B and Ella -- that could cause an abortion. Coverage of these drugs was not included knowingly or deliberately by the Green family [members of which own the company via a trust]. Such coverage is out of step with the rest of Hobby Lobby's policies, which explicitly exclude abortion-causing contraceptive devices and pregnancy-termination drugs. Hobby Lobby therefore immediately excluded the inconsistent drugs from its policies. 
In other words, the company only took a stand -- a supposedly religious stand -- after this issue became a political issue.

The religious commitment of the people who own and run Hobby Lobby isn't in dispute. Either in the court case or anywhere else. Nor is there any question about whether or not they have made decisions that were bad for the bottom line because of those religious commitments. It's quite curious though, and I'd even say suspect, that this issue became an issue, a tenet, purportedly, of that religion the owners are committed to, after the political brouhaha over Obamacare.

While the lawyers and the plaintiffs are claiming the prohibition against certain forms of birth control are long-standing tenets of the corporation's faith -- in addition to the claim that a for-profit corporation can have and practice a faith -- the evidence the lawyers have offered suggests it's rather a new-found doctrine.


  1. A more charitable reading of the facts might lead to the conclusion that the Green family was unaware of the details of their formulary, and that once the topic was brought to their attention, they dealt with it quickly. Still, it doesn't seem to be a very helpful point in their favor as far as their lawsuit is concerned.

  2. That's certainly the way the facts are being presented in the lawsuit. No evidence is offered, however, documenting the owners' longstanding objection to these forms of birth control.

  3. I was involved in the process when my boss considered whether to switch insurance companies or plans this year.

    Most of the potential plans varied only in deductibles, co=pays, and premiums.

    I didn't see any that allowed the employer to choose WHAT was covered.

    in all the controversy about the HHS mandate, I've never been able to figure out where these plans are that allow the employer to pick and choose what is covered.

    I guess they MUST exist, though, if this controversy has reached such levels...

  4. Admittedly, as a Canadian, I don't really, truly 'understand' what this business is all about. Whether the convictions are real, and if they are real, how they express other, less obvious concerns, is a bit beyond my competency to judge. But, I have to wonder, and perhaps someone has the answer, what sort of financial savings a company that signs its employees up for a health plan without coverage of birth control stands to garner? Or, pace the previous respondent, whether such plans exist at all?

  5. Such plans do exist, though they don't seem to be widely available, as Katy Anders notes. I don't know how the math of such plans works out, though corporations, particularly those that employ people without any special training, don't seem particularly eager to shoulder the costs of health care or of expanding health care coverage for their employees.

    I'm not the right person to ask about this though.

  6. Some employers (Hobby Lobby may be one) fund their own health care coverage rather than contract with an insurance company. Self-funded plans can dictate what they do or do not cover.

  7. Katy - I am guessing when you helped consider insurance plans it wasn't for a company with revenue of over 2 billion dollars a year and 21,000 employees. Companies that big have a policy specifically crafted for them with multiple insurance companies bidding to cover them.

    1. That makes sense. I've been wondering about how this controversy even makes sense, and that's as good an explanation as anything I've heard.

  8. Hobby Lobby's sudden stance on birth control does appear more political than religiously sincere. I have been in Hobby Lobby and other than the fact they are closed on Sunday they are don't have any other overt signs of taking a religious stance on other issues (poverty, war, the sick etc). I would believe their sudden display of conscience on this issue if they displayed efforts in other areas. Somehow moral outrage over providing coverage of Plan B (something an employee may or may not use) but not displaying some sort of disgust over events like: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/11/india-rape-suspects-hunted-victim-aimed-to-kill_n_2453078.html
    and promoting human rights in countries that produce the cheap craft products they sell is just shallow at best.