Cover Story

Here they stand

"Here they stand" Continued...

Issue: "Taking a scalpel to the First Amendment," Feb. 9, 2013

They learned those principles growing up in Covenant Presbyterian Church—a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Paul still attends Covenant. Chris attends Kirk of the Hills, another PCA congregation in town.

They learned the family business by spending summers working in the warehouse, purchasing department, and administrative offices to learn all aspects of the company. And they say they want to continue operating the company according to Christian principles. 

That means treating customers fairly and employees generously. They say dropping insurance coverage and paying a fine isn’t a desirable option for a family that believes benefits are an important part of a fair compensation package. They also point out dropping insurance would make it hard to compete for workers with businesses that do offer benefits. And the group Alliance Defending Freedom emphasizes that dropping insurance isn’t a quick fix—the law allows the government to sue employers in some cases.

Like most other companies, the Griesediecks say dropping emergency contraception from their plan and facing overwhelming fines of $100 per employee per day also isn’t a financially viable option for the company. 

For now, they have a reprieve. A federal judge in Springfield, Mo., awarded the Griesediecks’ four companies a preliminary injunction in December that shields them from fines as their case proceeds. 

Like judges in other cases, Judge Richard Dorr questioned the notion that an individual running a business entity doesn’t have religious protection: “Does an individual’s choice to run his business as one of these entities strip that individual of his right to exercise his religious belief?” Dorr also found “a substantial likelihood” that the Griesediecks will be able to prove the mandate “substantially burdens Plaintiffs’ exercise of free religion.”

Frank Manion—the brothers’ attorney who is also representing a handful of other plaintiffs—is encouraged by the ruling, and by nine out of 14 judges offering temporary injunctions so far. 

He says anyone concerned about religious liberty should follow the cases closely: “What’s at stake is the first liberty protected by the Bill of Rights. … And if we don’t protect that, just think of what it means for the rest of the Constitution.”

Mandate scorecard

By mid-January courts had granted injunctions to nine for-profit companies objecting to the HHS mandate. Courts denied injunctions in five cases. Most companies are Catholic-owned. Conestoga Wood Specialties is owned by Mennonites. Companies owned by evangelicals are in italics.  

Injunctions granted  

• Korte & Luitjohan Contractors 

• O’Brien Industrial Holdings  

• Hercules Industries 

• Legatus  

Tyndale House

American Pulverizer

• Domino’s Farms 

Sharpe Holdings

• Triune Health Group

Injunctions denied  

Hobby Lobby

• Autocam Corp 

• Grote Industries 

• Annex Medical 

• Conestoga Wood Specialties

What will others do?

While a handful of for-profit companies owned by evangelicals have filed suit against the HHS mandate, most haven’t. Some may already provide coverage of emergency contraceptives (including those that cause abortions) to their employees, and some may be waiting to see how cases like Hobby Lobby’s resolve.

Truett Cathy and son Dan Cathy, the evangelical founders and leaders of Chick-fil-A, endured heavy flack for their support of biblical marriage last year, but they haven’t been as public about their views on emergency contraceptives or abortion. 

I asked Chick-fil-A’s spokesman whether the company provides contraceptives for its employees, and whether the Cathy family opposed the HHS mandate. The spokesman declined to comment. A Chick-fil-A employee said the health insurance policies differ from franchise to franchise. But it’s unclear whether Chick-fil-A’s corporate policy covers emergency contraceptives or drugs that cause abortions.

Another evangelical-led chicken company, Tyson’s Food, describes itself as “faith-friendly” and lists among its company goals “to honor God.” Tyson’s recently launched the Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace at the University of Arkansas. Tyson’s Food spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company already covers contraceptives for its employees. He didn’t respond when asked whether that coverage was for all FDA-approved contraceptives, including abortifacients Plan B and Ella.

A spokeswoman for Interstate Batteries, another evangelical-owned business, didn’t answer questions about the HHS mandate and the company’s contraceptive coverage. “Interstate Batteries is privately held and doesn’t take positions as a company on public issues,” wrote spokeswoman Carrie Clark. “We respect the rights and personal beliefs of our employees and customers.”

ServiceMaster, another evangelical-led business, did not respond to a request for comment. And no one answered at the corporate press office for Forever 21, a clothing retail company that is Christian-owned. —Emily Belz

Mandated drugs

The Affordable Care Act requires health insurance plans to provide women, without a copayment, any form of birth control approved by the Food and Drug Administration and prescribed by a doctor. FDA-approved contraceptives include barrier methods like female condoms and caps (though some don’t need prescriptions) in addition to hormonal methods.

Pro-life proponents use the term “abortifacient” to refer to birth control methods that cause the death of a baby, only days old, by preventing the embryo from implanting in the wall of the uterus. They reserve the term “contraceptive” for methods that block sperm from fertilizing an egg. The distinction is important because many Protestants oppose abortion but not contraception. (The Roman Catholic Church officially opposes all forms of artificial birth control.)

Neatly categorizing the birth control options into abortifacient and nonabortifacient camps is difficult, however. Pro-life doctors disagree about whether hormonal birth control merely prevents fertilization or also causes changes to the womb that make it inhospitable for a newly fertilized embryo. Current scientific research is too inconclusive to resolve the debate.

Most hormonal birth control methods release progestin, or a combination of progestin and estrogen. These hormones can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg, and thicken cervical mucus to inhibit sperm, but they may alter the lining of the uterus as well. “The pill,” skin patches, birth control shots, implant rods, and hormonal contraceptive rings all work this way.

“Emergency contraceptive” pills (sometimes called morning-after pills), taken within a few days after sex, are also hormonal methods: Plan B One-Step contains a large dose of progestin, the same ingredient as traditional birth control pills, and works the same way. But the FDA label warns that the drug “may inhibit implantation”—although some scientists protest that there’s insufficient evidence it does so. Citing the FDA warning, the pro-life movement has consistently treated Plan B and Ella (another emergency contraceptive drug with a similar effect) as abortifacients.

The healthcare law also covers intrauterine devices (IUDs) and female sterilization procedures. T-shaped IUDs, lodged in the womb, prevent sperm from reaching an egg but can also act as abortifacients by blocking implantation. Sterilization, which permanently blocks the fallopian tubes, ensures sperm and egg never meet.—Daniel James Devine

WORLD’s views

Our report on what Christian companies are doing about the HHS mandate that requires employers to provide emergency contraceptives for employees naturally raises questions about what our own company is doing. 

Though WORLD is part of a non-profit organization dedicated to producing Christian content, the company doesn’t fit the narrow exemption currently published by HHS. We’re eager to see what the agency’s new exemption language will include.

For now, the timing of WORLD’s insurance plan renewal allowed the company to avoid offering abortifacient coverage for employees. (WORLD worked to change plans after discovering our former coverage included such drugs.) But unless HHS broadens its exemptions—or the courts decide otherwise—WORLD will likely face the coverage dilemma in the coming year.

WORLD CEO Kevin Martin says he hopes for new provisions that will give the company relief, but “I ultimately worry whether there will be any way to provide insurance that doesn’t require payment for abortifacient drugs.”

Dropping insurance would be a substantial burden on employees, and would cost the company and its workers thousands of dollars a year, he says: “We’re waiting to see, and we’re hoping and praying that something changes.” —J.D.

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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