Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — The Christian-owned craft chain Hobby Lobby lost its appeal in federal court this week, leaving in place the mandate that it provide abortion pill coverage to its over 13,000 employees under Obamacare.
As previously reported, Oklahoma U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton, appointed by George W. Bush, ruled against the company last month, opining that Hobby Lobby and its bookstore chain Mardel are not entitled to an exemption from the national healthcare law because “Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations.” He stated that while churches and non-profit entities may qualify for an exemption under Obamacare, a secular business is not a religious institution.
“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,” Heaton wrote. “The question of whether the Greens can establish a free exercise constitutional violation by reason of restrictions or requirements imposed on general business corporations they own or control involves largely uncharted waters.”
The company then appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, asking the court that it grant Hobby Lobby an injunction while it appeals its case to the United States Supreme Court. On Thursday, the three-judge panel refused to issue the restraining order, stating similar reasoning as Heaton.
It quoted from the lower court’s ruling: “The particular burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by healthcare providers and patients covered by [the corporate] plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiff[s’] religion. Such an indirect and attenuated relationship appears unlikely to establish the necessary ‘substantial burden.”
Hobby Lobby, led by CEO and founder David Green, first filed in court this past September, challenging two pills required to be covered under the new healthcare law. While Green is not generally against contraception, and says that he has been, and will continue to, offer birth control coverage to his employees, he specifically opposes what is known as the morning-after pill and the week-after pill.
“These abortion-causing drugs go against our faith, and our family is now being forced to choose between following the laws of the land that we love or maintaining the religious beliefs that have made our business successful and have supported our family and thousands of our employees and their families,” Green wrote in a statement. “We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate. … By being required to make a choice between sacrificing our faith or paying millions of dollars in fines, we essentially must choose which poison pill to swallow.”
Attorneys for the Obama administration had argued in court that Plan B and drugs like it do not cause abortions, and that the government has a significant interest in requiring that they be covered.
On Friday, following the denial from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Hobby Lobby’s attorneys forthrightly filed a 36-page petition to the United States Supreme Court, requesting emergency relief. The Court agrees to hear very few cases that are presented to the bench.
“[Hobby Lobby is] going to have to make a hard decision they shouldn’t have to make,” attorney Kyle Duncan of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty told reporters.
The various federal courts have been divided on the contraceptive mandate, as a judge in Illinois granted a temporary injunction to the Bible publishing company Tyndale House Publishers last month. This week, the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of two religious colleges as the Obama administration vowed to the court that it would rewrite the requirement in Obamacare so that it did not apply to sectarian educational institutions.
Hobby Lobby could face up to $1.3 million in fines per day if it does not obtain the mandated coverage.