Hobby Lobby wins temporary relief from birth control mandate

A key plaintiff against the Obama administration's birth control mandate won a temporary court injunction Friday allowing it not to provide birth control as part of its employee health plan.

Hobby Lobby, a national, for-profit chain of arts and crafts stores, was granted the preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton.

ADVERTISEMENT
Heaton did not rule on the merits of the case, which has already reached the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. He was ordered by that court simply to adjudicate questions related to an injunction.

In a decision read from the bench, Heaton said there is a “substantial public interest in ensuring that no individual or corporation has their legs cut out from under them” while their legal challenge is resolved.

Hobby Lobby was the first business run by evangelical Christians to file suit against the birth control mandate last year. Its owners say that covering certain forms of birth control in their worker health plan would violate their religious beliefs.

Lawyers for the company argued that it deserved an exemption from the mandate for this reason, even though the business itself is not religiously affiliated.

The judge stayed the case several months to allow the government to mount an appeal. In the interim, Hobby Lobby can refuse to follow ObamaCare's contraception policy without facing fines.

Friday's decision means that the government must decide how to appeal a recent decision by the 10th Circuit, which said Hobby Lobby is likely to succeed on the merits of its case against the mandate.

Lawyers for the Obama administration could either appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court or seek a final judgment at the district level.

Under healthcare reform, most businesses are required to cover a full range of birth control methods in their health plans, including drugs that some say cause abortion.

Attorneys for Hobby Lobby claimed victory in Heaton's decision.

“The tide has turned against the [Health and Human Services] mandate,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in a statement.

Supporters of the birth control policy say that women deserve access to a full range of contraceptive methods in their health plans, regardless of their bosses’ beliefs.

The mandate includes several exemptions and work-arounds for explicitly religious institutions.

Churches and houses of worship are exempt, and religiously affiliated employers will not be required to pay for, offer or facilitate birth control coverage themselves.

The accommodations leave out for-profit companies whose owners personally object to birth control.

This story was updated at 12:51 p.m.