The Oklahoma-based crafts store Hobby Lobby has won a temporary injunction against Obamacare’s birth control requirement, allowing the for-profit company to withhold contraceptive coverage from its 13,000 employees. Hobby Lobby will be exempted from that rule under the health law until October 1, when the federal government must decide whether to appeal the decision.
Obamacare requires employer-based insurance to cover a range of gender-specific preventative services at no additional cost to workers, including several forms of birth control, to help address the fact that women typically have higher out-of-pocket health costs than men do. But Hobby Lobby has been fighting for the right to drop birth control coverage for the past year. The store’s conservative Christian owners say that providing some types of birth control — specifically, emergency contraception — violates their religious beliefs. The craft store chain employs people of all faiths at 556 different stores in 45 states.
Hobby Lobby would have faced significant fines if it had violated Obamacare’s contraception rule. At first, the company decided to pay the fine in exchange for withholding birth control coverage. Then, it began manipulating employees’ health plans in the hopes of avoiding the fines altogether.
But now, with U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton’s decision to issue an injunction, the craft chain will have a temporary reprieve from the issue. Heaton’s ruling comes just a few weeks after the conservative panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit also sided with Hobby Lobby, agreeing that employers may put their own religious beliefs above their employees’ rights.
The Obama Administration has issued several clarifications to its birth control policy in order to appease faith-based employers — but federal officials have maintained that primarily secular for-profit businesses, like Hobby Lobby, shouldn’t be able to claim a religious exception. At this point, many leaders in the Catholic community, including the Catholic Health Association and Georgetown University, have acknowledged their satisfaction with Obamacare’s contraception provision. But the Administration remains embroiled in at least 18 lawsuits with for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby.