OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An arts and craft supply company owned by a Christian family asked a judge Thursday to block a portion of the new federal health care law, claiming that mandated coverage for certain birth control violates its religious freedom rights.
Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.'s owners believe the use of morning-after and week-after birth control pills are tantamount to abortion because they prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's womb. At a federal court hearing Thursday, a government lawyer said the drugs do not cause abortions and that the U.S. has compelling interest in mandating insurance coverage for them.
The company, which is self-insured, says it will face a daily $1.3 million fine beginning Jan. 1 if it ignores the law. U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton did not rule on the company's request for an injunction but noted Hobby Lobby's deadline for compliance.
"This does raise a lot of new and different issues," he said. "There's not a lot of guidance out there."
Hobby Lobby is the largest business to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that forces all companies, regardless of religious conviction, to provide coverage of drugs that the lawsuit alleges are abortion-inducing. The Green family also objects to providing coverage for certain kinds of intrauterine devices that the lawsuit alleges can destroy an embryo by preventing it from implanting in a woman's uterus.
Company lawyer Kyle Duncan said "millions of Americans" would consider drugs that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb an abortifacient.
"The purpose of these drugs is emergency contraception," Duncan said. "We don't cover pregnancy termination."
Government lawyer Michelle Bennett disagreed and said failing to mandate insurance coverage for the drugs would increase the number of unwanted pregnancies. Bennett said the drugs "do not terminate pregnancy," and instead prevent one from occurring.
The morning-after pill works by preventing ovulation or fertilization. In medical terms, pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the wall of the uterus. If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, it can reduce a woman's chances of pregnancy by as much as 89 percent.