5/23/2013 11:23:00 AM Birth Control Coverage Up For Federal Appeal in Hobby Lobby Case
DENVER (AP) — In the most prominent challenge of its kind, Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. is asked a federal appeals court today for an exemption from part of the federal health care law that requires it to offer employees health coverage that includes access to the morning-after pill.
The Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts chain argues that businesses — not just the currently exempted religious groups — should be allowed to seek exception from that part of the health law if it violates their religious beliefs.
“They ought to be able — just like a church, just like a charity — to have the right to opt out of a provision that infringes on their religious beliefs,” said Kyle Duncan, who argued before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Green family, the founders of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and a sister company, Christian booksellers Mardel Inc.
The Greens contend that emergency contraception is tantamount to abortion because it can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. They also object to providing coverage for certain kinds of intrauterine devices.
Lower courts have rejected Hobby Lobby’s claim, saying that for-profit businesses aren’t covered by an exemption added to the law for religious organizations. That exemption applies to churches themselves, but not to affiliated nonprofit corporations, like hospitals, that do not rely primarily on members of the faith as employees.
In a decision issued late last year, a federal judge concluded simply, “Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations.”
But U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton in Oklahoma City also wrote that “the court is not unsympathetic” to Hobby Lobby’s dilemma and that the question of compelling employer health coverage for certain procedures “involves largely uncharted waters.”
Other businesses in multiple states are challenging the contraception mandate, too. Hobby Lobby is the most prominent company making the claim, and it is the first to be heard by a federal appeals court. The U.S. Justice Department will argue for the government that the contraception mandate should stay.