Attorneys for Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and the federal government have asked a district judge to halt proceedings in their case over a section of the federal health care law dealing with contraception coverage while judges in Denver weigh an appeal.
In the joint petition filed Monday, the parties asked U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton to issue a stay. Attorneys for Hobby Lobby appealed Heaton's Nov. 19 decision, to deny a preliminary injunction on enforcement of the law, to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardel Inc. retail stores, filed a lawsuit in September challenging certain insurance coverage provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, claiming emergency contraception pills and certain intrauterine devices covered by the law could cause abortions.
The Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty assisted in the case. The Greens said the health care law violates their religious freedom by forcing them to provide coverage for some types of contraception.
Under the law, Hobby Lobby and Mardel could be fined up to $1.3 million per day starting Jan. 1 if they don't provide coverage for the morning-after pill, week-after pill and some intrauterine devices.
Hobby Lobby and Mardel said their health insurance would continue to provide other types of contraception. The companies have more than 13,000 employees.
Hobby Lobby covered the challenged contraceptive devices and pills in prior health plans. The company said that was by mistake and the coverage later was removed.
In his ruling on the preliminary injunction, Heaton said the Green family was separate from its incorporated businesses. As secular business entities, Hobby Lobby and Mardel were unlikely to win on claims of religious freedom under the First Amendment or a federal law protecting religious exercise, Heaton said.
Hobby Lobby attorneys said in an appeal filed last week that four other federal district courts have granted preliminary injunctions to business owners in similar cases.
“The district court missed the obvious: ruining a believer's business with fines unless he violates his faith substantially burdens religious exercise,” the attorneys wrote.
“Granting the motion would allow them to continue offering employees the current health plan, with all the mandated preventive services — including most contraceptives — less one small subset of drugs that can cause abortions.”
Government attorneys said Hobby Lobby is a for-profit, secular corporation, not a religious organization. The law allows exemptions for religious employers.
“The obligation to cover contraceptive services lies with the Hobby Lobby group health plan, which, like Hobby Lobby itself, is a legal entity separate and distinct from the corporation's owners,” government attorneys wrote.