A federal district judge ruled Nov. 19 that craft retailer Hobby Lobby’s Christian owners must provide abortifacients to their employees, or in just a few weeks face daily fines of $1.3 million from the federal government.
Hobby Lobby’s evangelical owners, the Green family, cover contraceptives for their 13,500 full-time employees, but the Greens object to covering abortifacients Plan B (the “morning after” pill) and Ella (the “week after” pill). Hobby Lobby sued the federal government because the healthcare law’s contraceptive mandate provided no exemption for religious business owners like the Greens. “The government essentially has a gun to its head,” said Kyle Duncan, the lead lawyer on the case with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton’s ruling against Hobby Lobby is in contrast with three other district-level rulings that placed emergency injunctions on the contraceptive mandate as applied to religious-owned businesses. In July, a U.S. District Court in Colorado ordered a preliminary injunction against the mandate for Hercules Industries, a Catholic-owned business. In October, a U.S. District Court in Michigan ordered a preliminary injunction against the mandate for Weingartz Supply Company, another Catholic-owned business. And in late November, a U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia granted a preliminary injunction to Tyndale House Publishers, a for-profit company that publishes Christian material.
Heaton acknowledged that his ruling wasn’t in accord with other courts, but his ruling found that even with religious ownership, Hobby Lobby did not count as “religious.”
“There’s no precedent for that ruling,” said Duncan. “To separate [the owners] arbitrarily from the company itself is a real mistake.”
Hobby Lobby immediately appealed the ruling to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, requesting an emergency injunction on the mandate while the case continues in the appeals courts. Duncan hopes to hear an answer from the 10th Circuit in early December.