American Journal of Law & Medicine

Federal Appellate Court Holds That a For-Profit Corporation Can Challenge the Contraception Mandate under the RFRA-Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. V. Sebelius

Federal Appellate Court Holds that a For-Profit Corporation Can Challenge the Contraception Mandate under the RFRA--Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius (1)--On the eve of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) final rules concerning the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate (the "Mandate"), (2) the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals placed Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Mardel, Inc. within reach of a preliminary injunction against the Mandate. (3) In a five-to-three decision, the Tenth Circuit became the first federal court of appeals considering a challenge to the Mandate to hold that a corporation is a "person" under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). (4) On an expedited remand, the district court granted Hobby Lobby and Mardel a preliminary injunction barring the Mandate's enforcement until the Supreme Court completes its review of the case. (5)

Plaintiffs David and Barbara Green and their children (the "Greens") are the owners of the arts-and-crafts chain store Hobby Lobby and the affiliated Christian bookstore chain Mardel. (6) Despite their for-profit, secular status, Hobby Lobby and Mardel have adopted formal policies and practices that reflect the Greens' Christian faith. (7) Hobby Lobby and Mardel are willing to provide group health insurance plans to their employees, but they seek to exclude from coverage "any FDA-approved contraceptives that would prevent implantation of a fertilized egg." (8) Hobby Lobby and Mardel could face sharp penalties under the Mandate if they deny coverage for certain FDA-approved contraceptives. (9)

The Mandate compels employers who provide group health plans to cover "preventative care and screenings" for women, (10) including four FDA-approved contraceptives that the Greens oppose on moral grounds. (11) Further, Hobby Lobby and Mardel do not qualify for either of the Mandate's exceptions to avoid covering the approved preventative care and screenings. (12) On September 12, 2012, the Greens filed suit on behalf of their companies to challenge this Mandate in the United States District Court of the Western District of Oklahoma for violating, inter alia, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and RFRA. (13)

The district court initially denied the plaintiffs' motion to enjoin the Mandate. (14) District Judge Heaton ruled that the owners' Free Exercise rights do not extend to their secular, for-profit corporations. (15) Citing the district court's ruling on appeal, the Tenth Circuit again denied the injunction on the grounds that the protection offered by RFRA does not cover the employees' "participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiff[s'] religion. …

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