STANDING FIRM: Christopher and Mary Anne.
Shaun Sartin/Genesis
STANDING FIRM: Christopher and Mary Anne.

Listening and leading

Religious Liberty | Christopher and Mary Anne Yep fight the contraceptive mandate and make female employees happy

Issue: "50 years after the bomb," Sept. 21, 2013

OAK BROOK, Ill.—The Obama administration says Triune Health Group, an Illinois healthcare management company, disrespects women because its health insurance plan does not cover abortifacients and contraceptives.

Women, though, disagree. When Crain’s Chicago Business sent anonymous surveys to Chicago companies last year and asked female employees about work culture, fairness of pay, vacation time, and relationships with management and co-workers, Triune’s employees were so happy with their situation that Triune beat out Microsoft for first place in Crain’s 2012 list of “Best Places to Work for Women.”

“Can you imagine our joy?” recalls Mary Anne Yep, Triune’s vice president: “We’re getting the news that this is being announced while we’re writing the brief for our lawsuit against the government,” which is trying to force all companies into an Obamacare vise. The president of Triune, Christopher Yep, also relishes the irony, which isn’t surprising: He and Mary Anne are partners in business and marriage, with eight children.

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The Yeps started Triune 23 years ago after the birth of their sixth child. Back then Christopher made calls from a home office, periodically disturbed by the sound of kids pounding up and down a wooden staircase. Today, Triune has grown to about 80 employees—two-thirds are female—and moved into a suite of offices behind locked glass doors in Oak Brook, Ill. With a network of “field nurses,” Triune assists other companies by overseeing workers injured on the job, ensuring they get the medical care they need to return to health and employment as soon as possible.

As Roman Catholics, the Yeps cannot in good conscience pay for abortive and contraceptive drugs and devices, and are suing in federal and state courts to stop the mandate’s enforcement. Following church doctrine, the Yeps don’t believe in contraception or in vitro fertilization. “It’s separating human beings from the procreative process,” Mary Anne says. They are fervently pro-life: Although they have eight children (five work for Triune today), they count 10, since the last two were miscarriages.

Mary Anne used to take her children to pray the rosary in front of a local abortion center: “We were married in the year that abortion was [legalized]. We thought to ourselves: Our children’s classrooms are going to shrink before our eyes.”

The Yeps have been maneuvering to avoid paying for contraceptives for years, long before Obama invented Obamacare. In 1990, when they started the business, Mary Anne called around for a health insurance plan that didn’t provide abortion or contraceptives. Some people laughed at her request, but a pro-life group finally gave the name of an insurer willing to write the policy the Yeps wanted.

When they later switched insurance providers to meet Triune’s growing needs, they had the understanding their new policy would contain the same exclusions. But in 2004 Illinois revised its law, requiring insurers to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives. The Yeps’ insurance company quietly slipped the coverage into Triune’s policy.

“The legislators kind of back-doored it,” Kevin White, an attorney with the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, said of the Illinois law. “Most employers are not even aware it’s in their coverage, and many, I think, would be offended to discover it there.” Illinois is just one of 28 states that have their own contraception mandate for businesses, with various exemptions for some religious employers.

The Thomas More Society is helping Triune sue both the federal government and Illinois over the mandates. Courts have granted injunctions in both cases, meaning Triune won’t have to pay fines until judges make final decisions. White said the cases argue the state and federal contraceptive mandates force the Yeps to violate their First Amendment right to freely practice their religion as employers: “There is no separation in their minds between acting out the gospel, if you will, and running their business.”

Christopher Yep started Triune partly as a reaction to secular business practices that could harm marriages and steal family time: He remembers his former employer, for example, hosting a dance at a hotel without spouses, and asking employees to attend an after-hours picnic at the boss’s house. Triune is the Yeps’ effort to create a pro-family work environment where hours are flexible and employees can get time off to deal with personal or family matters.

“They will set you up with a therapist, if that’s what you need,” says Jodi MacEwan, 60, a nurse case manager and an Episcopalian. MacEwan says she came from a “tumultuous background” and joined Triune 5½ years ago with a defensive spirit, but the kindness of company managers convinced her, “You don’t have to rule by harshness.” The company’s emphasis on listening carefully to employees’ needs and complaints has even prompted her to improve her communication with her husband.


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