Hobby Lobby, the 550-store, 13,000-employee Christian-owned arts and crafts retail chain at the center of a legal fight over a contraception mandate within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, won a temporary victory over the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week after a court issued a preliminary injunction permitting the company to omit birth control from its employee health plan.
U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton read his decision from the bench, saying there exists “a substantial public interest in ensuring that no individual or corporation has their legs cut out from under them while these difficult issues are resolved.”
Without a court order in place to keep Federal penalties at bay while the company’s lawsuit against HHS moves forward, Hobby Lobby’s owners faced a possible $1.3 million in daily fines.
The ruling doesn’t address the merits of the case, but it does move the suit one step closer to a definitive and potentially far-reaching resolution, as the Obama Administration considers an early petition before the U.S. Supreme Court in the hope of obtaining a ruling that forces company owners to extend “preventive” coverage for contraception in violation of their religious beliefs.
The injunction, which also applies to the affiliated chain of Mardel Christian bookstores, has the additional effect of demonstrating that a Court can regard a privately held company as a “person” in affirming the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Nationwide, there are more than 60 other companies challenging the HHS contraception mandate.
Because the injunction doesn’t set a definitive precedent and serves only to relieve an undue burden during ongoing litigation in this case alone, it doesn’t excuse those companies from applying the mandate or from facing fines; rather, each would have to win a similar court-ordered injunction separately or simply wait for the mandate to be declared unConstitutional.
Heaton delayed the case until October, which allows the Obama Administration time to weigh whether to mount an appeal.
Hobby Lobby’s owners have stated publicly that providing coverage for contraception that includes morning-after pregnancy-ending pills conflicts with their religion-based moral convictions.