Hobby Lobby stance spurs controversy

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 3, 2013 

— Hobby Lobby is becoming known for more than just their arts and crafts.

The Oklahoma-based retail store is drumming up a firestorm of controversy over its stand against the morning-after pill.

"To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs," said Kyle Duncan, attorney with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Hobby Lobby. "The company will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees."

On Jan. 1, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate under the Affordable Care Act -- President Barack Obama's health care overhaul -- requiring all employer health plans to provide free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs.

"We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate," David Green, Hobby Lobby chief executive officer and founder, said in a press release.

Green said his company has no objection with covering birth control, but it refuses to pay for two specific drugs: Plan B and Ella, the morning-after pill and the week-after pill, respectively.

"Our faith is being challenged by the federal government," Green said in a statement. "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."

By refusing to comply, Hobby Lobby is facing fines up to $1.3 million per day, adding up to more than $40 million in January alone.

A mixed reaction

Customers shopping at Hobby Lobby's busy Merced location on Thursday were divided on the issue.

"I have mixed feelings about it," said 32-year-old Maribel Rocha of Merced. "I love the store and I like most of their beliefs, but women should have a choice -- the pill should be available for them. It's up to them if they take it or not."

Standing next to her two daughters Thursday, Rocha pointed out that there are many teenagers who may need the morning-after pill.

"I think the pill should be available because there are a lot of teens out there. If my daughter was 16 and worked here, I'd want her to have that option just in case."

Merced resident Mark Edwards, 49, had a different point of view.

"They (Hobby Lobby) stick to their religious views, and isn't that the First Amendment?" Edwards said. "I don't see why they should be forced to take a system that doesn't work. As a private employer, they have every right -- and employees don't have to work for them."

Rayne Colwell, 42, of Fresno, said Hobby Lobby's point of view is hypocritical.

"They sell items from China, which has birth control and the one-child policy," Colwell said. "Nobody has a right to tell anybody what to do. Women should have the right to choose."

In September, the company filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court opposing the mandate. The government denied the motion, stating the company is a secular business.

Hobby Lobby appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and asked the Supreme Court for a temporary halt while their appeal goes forward, relieving the company from paying the fines.

However, that request was denied on Dec. 26, when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the Supreme Court decided not to get involved in the case at this time.

The next step is to allow the appeal to go through the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Supporters of Hobby Lobby's stand have launched a nationwide support campaign, asking people to shop at the store on Saturday to show their support.

As of Wednesday evening, more than 24,000 people accepted a Facebook invitation to show their support.

Phone calls to the company's headquarters were not returned, nor would the company's public relations firm comment on the day of support.

Hobby Lobby, which was started in the owner's garage in 1972, operates more than 500 stores in 41 states, with nearly 22,500 employees.

To date, there are 43 separate lawsuits pending against the HHS mandate.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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