Full court press

Religion After several losses, Hobby Lobby to receive a full circuit court hearing on its challenge to the contraceptive mandate | Emily Belz

Full court press

A Hobby Lobby store in Dallas.
Associated Press/Photo by Tony Gutierrez

Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit against the healthcare insurance contraceptive mandate will move forward again after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to give the case a hearing before the full court. The craft retailer had requested an “en banc” review of the case after a two-judge panel of the 10th Circuit dismissed its lawsuit in December. 

At the end of December, the U.S. Supreme Court declined Hobby Lobby’s request for an emergency intervention in the case, so the business’ only recourse was a full review from the circuit court. The mandate was supposed to go into effect for the retailer on Jan. 1 of this year, but the company found a way to shift its insurance plan year and buy a few more months to try to win an injunction. The company faces potential fines upwards of $1.3 million a day for not complying with the mandate. 

With more than 13,000 full-time employees, the evangelical Christian-owned business is the largest of the for-profit company suits against the mandate, which requires employers to provide coverage of contraceptives as well as drugs that can induce abortions. Hobby Lobby provides contraceptive coverage to its employees, but, because of the owners’ beliefs, the company’s insurance plan does not include abortifacients Plan B or Ella. 

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So far 14 for-profit businesses have won temporary injunctions against the mandate on grounds that it violates their religious freedom. Only six businesses have been denied.

The District Court judge who originally ruled against Hobby Lobby said the question of whether business owners have conscience protections in respect to their secular businesses is “largely uncharted waters.” The panel ruling from the 10th Circuit in December said the mandate only “indirectly” violated the Hobby Lobby owners’ beliefs, not enough to earn them an injunction.

The retailer has its headquarters in Oklahoma, which is where the business filed its lawsuit originally. The 10th Circuit encompasses Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Two other lawsuits from for-profit companies against the mandate are in progress in that region. One, filed by Hercules Industries, won an injunction, while another, filed by Continuum Health Partnerships, was denied. The U.S. government asked the 10th Circuit to hear an appeal of the Hercules Industries injunction alongside Hobby Lobby’s case, but the court denied that motion.

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