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Hobby Lobby finds short-term way to avoid fines

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP) — Hobby Lobby says it has found a way to avoid for “several months” being penalized by the federal government for not covering abortion-inducing drugs in its employee health care plans.

Beginning Jan. 1, Hobby Lobby reportedly was facing fines of around $1.3 million per day for defying the Department of Health and Human Services’ abortion/contraceptive mandate. Jan. 1 was the date its new employee health care plan was to take effect.

But Peter M. Dobelbower, an attorney and vice president for Hobby Lobby, said in a Jan. 10 statement that that date had been delayed, although he didn’t provide specific details.

“Hobby Lobby discovered a way to shift the plan year for its employee health insurance, thus postponing the effective date of the mandate for several months,” Dobelbower said. “Hobby Lobby does not provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in its healthcare plan. Hobby Lobby will continue to vigorously defend its religious liberty and oppose the mandate and any penalties.”

Hobby Lobby eventually could face fines despite the fact that for-profits have a record of 9-5 (nine wins, five losses) in federal court against the mandate, according to a tally by the legal group Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Hobby Lobby — the largest business to sue the government over the issue — is among the four for-profits to have lost in court. So far, each of the nine victories has been limited to the business that sued, although if those wins stand on appeal, they could cover Hobby Lobby.

Under the mandate, businesses and even some religious organizations are required to carry employee insurance that covers contraceptives, including emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and ella that can kill an embryo after fertilization and even after implantation. Pro-lifers consider that action a chemical abortion. After a federal judge in November ruled Hobby Lobby must cover the drugs, Becket unsuccessfully appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who oversees emergency appeals from the Tenth Circuit. Sotomayor did say the lawsuit could proceed in the lower court and be appealed back to the high court at the appropriate time.

The Hobby Lobby suit also includes Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain. The same family — the Greens — owns both of them.

“These abortion-causing drugs go against our faith, and our family is now being forced to choose between following the laws of the land that we love or maintaining the religious beliefs that have made our business successful,” David Green, Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO, said in September. “… We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”

In total, there have been 43 lawsuits against the mandate. Many of them involve religious organizations such as Christian colleges and universities.

The mandate was announced by the Department of Health and Human Services in August 2011 as part of the health care law championed by President Obama. Although the Supreme Court upheld the health care law last June, the justices’ ruling did not deal with the religious liberty issues surrounding the abortion/contraceptive mandate. That means the nation’s highest court could yet strike down what has been for religious groups and some business owners the most controversial part of the law.
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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