Tonawanda News

April 2, 2014

DUVALL: Hobby Lobby argument is built on sand

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — By now if you’re any kind of a newspaper reader (and if you’re reading this I presume you are) you’ve heard about the Hobby Lobby case recently argued before the Supreme Court.

Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based retailer with locations across the country including in Western New York, has sued the Obama administration over its mandate in the president’s health care overhaul requiring private employers to provide health plans that include free access to birth control for women.

This is not a controversial subject for an overwhelming number of Americans. More than 90 percent of women say they are presently or have used some form of birth control. Previous to the Obamacare overhaul it was part of the reason insurers charged women more for health insurance than men — as if women were the sole participants in getting (or preventing getting) pregnant.

That’s illegal now and that’s a good thing.

But pump the brakes, Hobby Lobby says. They’re a private company whose owners have a religious objection to birth control. They argued, persuasively according to court-watchers who track this kind of thing, the federal government is treading on their right to religious freedom by requiring them to provide health plans that pay for birth control, including the morning-after pill.

Tuesday, the liberal media outlet Mother Jones — you may remember them for breaking the Mitt Romney 47 percent story during the 2012 campaign — thought to do something every national media outlet should be slapping their foreheads at failing to track down.

Mother Jones took a look at the employer-sponsored 401(k) retirement plan Hobby Lobby provides to 13,400 of its employees. Want to hear something funny? Those 401(k) plans — which the Hobby Lobby website boasts the company paid $3.8 million into in 2012 — include some 40 mutual fund options. Many of those funds include several large drug companies that manufacture ... wait for it ... the very birth control products Hobby Lobby argued before the Supreme Court they have a religious duty to oppose.

Of the nine mutual funds examined by Mother Jones offered by Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) program, each contained multiple — in some case dozens — of pharmaceutical companies and $73 million in investments into those funds.

Is it surprising that mainstream retirement investments include buying into companies like Teva, which produces the generic version of the Plan B morning-after pill, or Pfizer, manufacturer of two of the most commonly prescribed pills for medically induced abortions? Absolutely not. In fact, if the company wants to make good on its promise to employees to help them save for a future retirement they have a fiduciary duty to invest in blue chip companies like Teva and Pfizer.

My point isn’t merely to call the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, hypocrites — though they certainly are.

Whether Hobby Lobby realized the drug companies were included in the mutual funds it helps underwrite for its employees isn’t known. Mother Jones said the company did not respond to requests for comment. It’s worth noting the most recent public filings on their retirement plan date to December 2012, three months after filing their Obamacare lawsuit. It’s also worth noting the birth control pills they now oppose were included on previous employer-sponsored health insurance plans before they decided to sue over the Obamacare provisions.

That’s beside the point. 

We need to discredit the bogus argument one person’s religion takes precedent over public policy. The reality is we live in a large and very complicated society where one person’s religious beliefs shouldn’t take precedent over common sense and widely accepted health care provisions that benefit millions of women.

If a company as socially conscious as Hobby Lobby can’t craft a retirement plan that meets its own high standards for religious conformation, who can?

What this story should demonstrate is just how far out on the margins you have to be to argue against providing women with free access to birth control.

And should Hobby Lobby prevail, it would also demonstrate just how far our judicial system has tilted to the right in deciding where individual religious liberties trump prevailing public interest.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.