POSTED ON NOVEMBER 7, 2012:
A Question of Choice
Hobby Lobby morning-after pill lawsuit has some Tulsa supporters
B.J. Dumond drew plenty of chuckles and the occasional "Amen" from the crowd of about 30 gathered for the Nov. 1 weekly luncheon of the International Fellowship of Christian Businessmen in Tulsa.
"If you serve God, good things will happen," said Dumond, president of restaurant chain Simple Simon's Pizza.
Sometimes, they even happen in spite of a businessman's lack of foresight, he recalled. Dumond told the story of how disaster befell his first buffet night more than 25 years ago. Rather than accept an offer for extra help in the kitchen, the result was two dozen scorched and smoking pizzas that literally had to be tossed onto the gravel outside while hungry patrons looked on, still hoping for their meal.
His chatty talk belied his response, however, when asked by a reporter after the meeting about the Affordable Care Act and a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby and that company's founders, the Green family.
"Oh yeah, he's absolutely right," Dumond practically bellowed. "It's infringing on their rights."
He was referring either to David Green or Green's son Mart. Nearly 500 people turned out to hear the younger Green when he spoke to the Tulsa fellowship in 2009, according to a newsletter published by the group.
The Green family contends that the Affordable Care Act actually forces the family to violate their religious beliefs. Their lawsuit states that the new health care law wrongly forces employers to cover health care costs related to the morning-after pill and also the week-after pill -- controversial forms of emergency contraception that the Green family says are tantamount to abortion pills.
Morning-after and week-after pills work by "delaying or preventing ovulation, blocking fertilization, or keeping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus," according to the Mayo Clinic. The Greens state the drugs "may prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, thus aborting the fertilized egg." Morning-after pills do not require a prescription.
The same day as the luncheon, a U.S. District Court judge heard arguments from Hobby Lobby lawyers seeking an injunction that would stop enforcement of the law. The federal government contends in the case that despite the beliefs of Hobby Lobby founders, the company should be treated as any for-profit, secular employer. The government argues that if an injunction is granted, it would wrongly open the door to allow other businesses to rewrite laws depending on the circumstances.
In Tulsa, Ted Robertson, president of the fellowship group, confidently said he thinks 99 percent of the group's membership backs Green's position in the lawsuit.
Dumond, notably, had no qualms about vocally supporting Green -- and describing his company's plans. "We'll be opting out and paying the fines," Dumond said.
Such a move would likely be costly. While fines may vary for each business under the law, attorneys for the Greens have said Hobby Lobby faces up to $1.3 million in fines if they don't comply with the new health care law.
Some large Tulsa businesses did not respond when asked if they have been following the Hobby Lobby lawsuit, including United States Beef Corp. and Helmerich and Payne. Mike Thornbrugh, spokesman for QuikTrip, wrote in an email that the lawsuit was "their business," and that QuikTrip didn't have any comment.
Devona Haslam, a vice president for administration and human resources with pizza chain Mazzio's, also said the company didn't have a formal position on the Hobby Lobby lawsuit.
However, she spoke about how the Affordable Care Act would result in a change for the chain.
"We have historically provided contraception through the plan but not the morning-after pill," Haslam said.
If any companies are considering opting out, many are facing decisions that must be made before the start of the current year, Haslam said. Some companies may have already made such a choice. Haslam explained that health care plans generally run for one year, and the law went into effect for any plan whose year commenced after Aug. 1.
"We are not nearly as large of an employer as Hobby Lobby, and we're not in the position that they're in to sue the federal government to change a federal law, but we're watching it with interest," Haslam said.
She said opting out could prove costly for many businesses.
"For employers of very much size, that's really not a viable answer. It's more expensive to opt out than to offer the plan," Haslam said. "The question for everybody is how do I get in compliance, and how do I afford to be in compliance?"
That doesn't mean that some businesses aren't considering their options. "Every business is going to be a little bit of different. I hear a lot of people say, 'Well, I'm just going to raise people's wages and let them get it on the exchange," Haslam said, referring to yet-to-be established health insurance exchanges that are supposed to be another option for consumers under the Affordable Care Act.
Results from a Sooner Poll released Oct. 29 found that statewide, 57 percent of Oklahomans opposed the mandate requiring the morning-after pill, with 33 percent supporting that aspect of the law and 10 percent undecided.
In Tulsa, the poll found that 46 percent of city residents support the mandate compared to 44 percent opposed.
The Hobby Lobby case is far from the only legal challenge. The Associated Press reported that a Roman Catholic-owned business has challenged the mandate requiring contraceptives to be paid for if a business is providing health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. A federal judge has temporarily ordered the government to refrain from taking enforcement action against the company. Several other similar challenges have also been filed.
In Oklahoma, at press time U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton had yet to make a ruling on the injunction request.
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