Big news report card: Hobby Lobby and contraceptives

One of the big misconceptions about the Hobby Lobby case (with apologies to Conestoga Wood Specialties) is that the Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts retailer refuses to pay for employees’ contraceptive coverage.

Alas, the National Review notes:

Hobby Lobby’s health care plan … includes access, copay-free, to the following categories of FDA-approved birth-control:

  1. Male condoms
  2. Female condoms
  3. Diaphragms with spermicide
  4. Sponges with spermicide
  5. Cervical caps with spermicide
  6. Spermicide alone
  7. Birth-control pills with estrogen and progestin (“Combined Pill)
  8. Birth-control pills with progestin alone (“The Mini Pill)
  9. Birth control pills (extended/continuous use)
  10. Contraceptive patches
  11. Contraceptive rings
  12. Progestin injections
  13. Implantable rods
  14. Vasectomies
  15. Female sterilization surgeries
  16. Female sterilization implants

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Hobby Lobby, explains the family-owned company’s position:

The Green family has no moral objection to the use of 16 of 20 preventive contraceptives required in the mandate, and Hobby Lobby will continue its longstanding practice of covering these preventive contraceptives for its employees. However, the Green family cannot provide or pay for four potentially life-threatening drugs and devices. These drugs include Plan B and Ella, the so-called morning-after pill and the week-after pill. Covering these drugs and devices would violate their deeply held religious belief that life begins at the moment of conception, when an egg is fertilized.

Given the widespread confusion over the case, details concerning what Hobby Lobby will fund, what it won’t — and why — are crucial to understanding this week’s major U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Based strictly on that important question, I reviewed some of the major first-day news coverage of the high court’s 5-4 decision this week in Hobby Lobby’s favor (a hat tip to the Pew Research Center’s daily religion headlines for providing most of the below links).

Maybe I’m being overly generous in my summer grading, but the coverage I read — in general — did an adequate job of explaining the contraceptives issue:

Boston Globe: A.

Obama’s health care law requires company insurance plans to provide free access to 20 contraceptive methods that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood objected to having to cover two types of emergency contraceptive pills and two types of IUDs that they liken to abortion.

If the owners of the companies comply with the mandate, “they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price — as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies,” (Justice Samuel) Alito wrote.

Detroit Free Press: B.

Hobby Lobby objected to providing insurance for four contraceptives: two morning-after pills and two types of intrauterine devices. The high court’s ruling, however, applies to all 20 FDA-approved contraceptives in the following way: If a family business is opposed to any of them on religious grounds, it can’t be forced to pay for them. …

The decision involves two Christian-owned family businesses that challenged a provision of the federal Affordable Care Act, claiming it unlawfully required them to pay for contraception insurance or face hefty fines of up to $1.3 million a day. The owners of Hobby Lobby, along with those of a -based (sic) cabinet wood maker, said they believe that some contraceptives “end human life after conception” so they shouldn’t be forced to offer them.

The Free Press needed to make clearer that Hobby Lobby’s insurance plan covers most of the contraceptives.

Los Angeles Times: A.

In the contraceptive case, owners of closely held for-profit companies who object to the contraceptive mandate under the Affordable Care Act won the right to opt out if they have a “sincere religious belief that life begins at conception.” …

The Greens provide health insurance, including most contraceptives, to their employees. But they objected to “morning after” pills and IUDs, which work by preventing fertilized eggs from developing into pregnancies. Viewing such contraceptives as a form of abortion, they sued, seeking an exemption from the federal law.

The Oklahoman: A.

The families say four of the contraceptives — including the so-called “morning after” pill and IUDs — can prevent a human embryo from being implanted in the womb, which they equate to abortion. They filed lawsuits against the federal government, contending the mandate forced them to violate the Christian beliefs by which they run their companies.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: A-plus.

The Green family, evangelical Christians who own Hobby Lobby, and the Hahn family, Mennonites who own Conestoga Wood Specialties, object to providing four of the 16 forms of birth control that the Affordable Care Act requires to be available for free to women employees. They include emergency contraception commonly known as the morning-after pill and intrauterine devices that prevent embryos from implanting in uteruses.

Because their religions say life begins at conception, the Greens and Hahns equate the two methods to abortion. They argued that requiring them to provide them would violate the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the government from restricting the exercise of religion unless doing so furthers a very important public interest that cannot be achieved in a less restrictive way.

The Post-Gazette gets extra points for explaining the families’ belief in life beginning at conception.

Politico: A.

The challenges were brought by the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., a national craft store chain owned by evangelical Christians with more than 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a small Pennsylvania cabinet company owned by Mennonites.

The owners of both said they have religious objections to providing access to certain forms of contraception — Plan B, Ella and certain intrauterine devices, which they call abortifacients — in their employee health plans. They had the backing of the Catholic bishops, several Republican lawmakers and at least 50 other for-profit companies that have filed similar legal challenges.

New York Times: B.

The health care law and related regulations require many employers to provide female workers with comprehensive insurance coverage for a variety of methods of contraception. The companies objected to covering intrauterine devices and so-called morning-after pills, saying they were akin to abortion. Many scientists disagree. …

The companies said they had no objection to some forms of contraception, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery.

The NYTimes covers the basics, but the “Many scientists disagree” statement fails to explain the bigger debate over when life begins.

Wall Street Journal: A.

The Affordable Care Act requires employers to cover all forms of contraception approved by the government without charging workers a copayment. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., an Oklahoma City arts-and-crafts chain owned by an evangelical Christian family, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a Pennsylvania cabinetmaker owned by a Mennonite family, objected to covering the so-called morning-after pill and certain intrauterine devices because they consider them tantamount to abortion.

Washington Post: A.

The requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that most businesses provide their employees with health-care coverage that includes the full range of contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration has been under legal attack across the country.

Some businesses object to offering contraception at all, while others, like the companies that brought the challenge to the Supreme Court, say offering certain types of birth control, such as intrauterine devices, make them complicit in abortion.

Given all those A’s and B’s, dare we blame the misconceptions on too many chatterboxes not bothering to read actual news reports?

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.


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