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April 21, 2014

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Judge denies Hobby Lobby’s morning-after case

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Steve Marcus

The parking lot was full Thursday at the Hobby Lobby in Henderson. The store, the 441st in the chain, opened Monday in a 51,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by a Von’s supermarket. Even as many retailers and food establishments are struggling to outlast the recession, new franchises are entering the market or expanding their foothold.

OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal judge Monday rejected a request by Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. to block part of the new federal health care law that requires it to provide the morning-after and week-after birth control pills.

In a 28-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton denied a request by Hobby Lobby to prevent the government from enforcing portions of the health care law that will require it to include contraceptives the company considers objectionable in its health insurance plan.

The Oklahoma City-based arts and craft supply company and a sister company, Mardel Inc., sued the government in September claiming that the companies' Christian owners believe use of the 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. The company's owners also object to providing coverage for certain kinds of intrauterine devices.

At a hearing earlier this month, a government lawyer said the drugs do not cause abortions and that the U.S. has a compelling interest in mandating insurance coverage for them.

In his ruling denying Hobby Lobby's request for an injunction, Heaton noted churches and other religious organizations or religious corporations have been granted constitutional protection from provisions of the law regarding the birth-control measures.

"However, Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations," the ruling states. "Plaintiffs have not cited, and the court has not found, any case concluding that secular, for-profit corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion."

Hobby Lobby's attorney said the companies' owners, the Green family, plan to appeal.

"Every American, including family business owners like the Greens, should be free to live and do business according to their religious beliefs," Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said in a statement.

The company, which is self-insured, has said it will face a daily $1.3 million fine beginning Jan. 1 if it ignores the law.

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.

But critics of the contraceptive say it is the equivalent of an abortion pill because it can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.

The lawsuit also alleges that certain kinds of intrauterine devices can destroy an embryo by preventing it from implanting in a woman's uterus.

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