January 3, 2013 — Last week, an attorney for Hobby Lobby announced that the retail chain will defy the federal contraceptive coverage rules by refusing to include coverage of emergency contraception in its employee health plan, the Los Angeles Times reports. Hobby Lobby and its sister company, Mardel, face fines of up to $1.3 million per day as of Jan. 1 for not complying with the rules. The companies' conservative Christian owners object to covering EC because they believe it is the equivalent of an abortion.
The companies' announcement came shortly after the Supreme Court denied their request for an emergency injunction to block enforcement of the contraceptive coverage rules (Li, Los Angeles Times, 1/1). The court said it will not consider the case until lower courts have ruled (Haberkorn/Smith, Politico, 12/26/12).
"The company will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees," said plaintiffs' attorney Kyle Duncan of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. He added, "To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs" (Brown, Salt Lake City Deseret News, 12/31/12).
Background of Lawsuit
Last month, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with a lower court's decision that the companies' owners are not exempt from providing employees with birth control coverage because they operate secular businesses (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/21/12). The case now goes back to a U.S. District Court in Oklahoma, which will rule on its merits (Politico, 12/26/12).
Details of Supreme Court Ruling
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who oversees emergency appeals from the 10th Circuit, said the plaintiffs failed to meet "the demanding standard for the extraordinary relief" (CNN, 12/26/12). She did not rule on the merits of the case.
Sotomayor wrote that it is not "absolutely" clear that the plaintiffs need the injunction and noted that lower courts have been divided on whether to grant similar requests. She added that the high court has little experience with religious-based requests for emergency injunctions.
She said the "applicants may continue their challenge to the regulations in the lower courts," adding, "Following a final judgment, they may, if necessary, file a petition" for the Supreme Court to hear the case (Politico, 12/26/12).