Companies increasingly challenge health act’s contraception provisions

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 14 January 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f281
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. 1New York

Nearly 50 organizations have challenged the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employees’ health insurance plans cover contraception. Among the most recent was Hobby Lobby, a national arts and crafts retail chain run by a family with strong religious beliefs. The firm may face fines of up to $1.3m (£0.8m; €1m) a day.

Different courts have ruled for and against organizations challenging the law, making it likely that the issue will end up in the Supreme Court.

The health act requires firms with more than 50 full time employees and that provide health insurance to cover contraceptive services, including emergency contraception. Religious institutions such as churches are exempt from the rule.

Non-profit, religiously affiliated institutions such as schools, universities, and hospitals—which often employ people of different faiths—have been given a temporary exemption from the rule until the end of March, when a final rule will be issued.

Challenges have come from profit making companies such as Hobby Lobby that have religious or moral objections to contraception. Hobby Lobby says on its website, “The foundation of our business has been and will continue to be strong values, and honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with Biblical principles . . . All Hobby Lobby stores are closed on Sunday.”

Hobby Lobby asked the Supreme Court to block the part of the health act that required the firm’s health insurance scheme to cover contraception. The appeal was denied in December by the associate justice Sonia Sotomayor, who suggested that the firm proceed to trial in the lower courts.

Hobby Lobby said that it would continue its refusal to provide through its employee health plan contraceptives that it considered to be abortifacients, although it would provide other contraceptives.

Hobby Lobby is represented by Kyle Duncan, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, an organization supporting religious freedom. The BMJ tried to contact Duncan and the firm’s spokesperson for comment but received no reply to several requests.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f281

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