Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. is asking a federal appeals court to expedite its case against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in hopes of avoiding millions of dollars in fines the company could face this summer for failing to cover the cost of emergency contraceptives for its employees.
The company now hopes to have its case heard by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in April or early May to have a ruling by July 1.
If the court grants the company's motion to expedite the case, the Oklahoma City retailer would likely become the first of several companies that challenged the federal mandate on emergency contraceptives to have its case heard by an appellate court. That also could put the company first in line to eventually have its case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is defending Hobby Lobby in its lawsuit.
“These cases are ultimately going to have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Duncan said.
U.S. Justice Department attorneys defending the federal government in Hobby Lobby's lawsuit are not expected to oppose Hobby Lobby's motion to speed up the legal process, Duncan said.
In court documents filed Thursday, Hobby Lobby said it would begin incurring massive fines July 1 for failing to comply with a federal mandate that is part of the Affordable Care Act that requires it to pay for emergency contraceptives.
Short-term fix in place
The company shifted the beginning of its employee health plan year in January to temporarily stave off incurring the penalties. Hobby Lobby has said previously that it could face fines of up to $1.3 million a day for failing to provide the emergency contraceptives coverage for its workers.
The company will continue to offer health insurance coverage for its workers without paying for emergency contraceptives, even if that means incurring millions in fines, Duncan said.
“But if and when the government tries to fine them, they will take all legal means to minimize and avoid those fines,” he said.
Hobby Lobby founder David Green and his family believe some types of emergency contraceptives, including the morning-after pill, are forms of abortion, which conflicts with the family's Christian religious beliefs.
The federal government argues that constitutional rights to religious freedom do not apply to Hobby Lobby because the company is a secular, for-profit corporation.
These cases are ultimately going to have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
General counsel for the Becket