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On abortion, Hobby Lobby looking wobbly.

The owners of Hobby Lobby want you to know they take their moral commitments seriously. The Green family's stores don't sell shot glasses. They're closed on Sundays. They don't even allow their trucks to "back-haul" beer shipments. As supporter Ben Domenech pointed out, all those practices "could make them money, but they just bear the costs." The Greens are so serious about their Christian beliefs that they've made a federal case out of their objection to paying insurance premiums that would allow their employees to choose to receive contraceptive products that the Greens deem no different from abortion. "I doubt this is the type of company to spend one dime on this contraception mandate," Domenech wrote. "They will just drop coverage, and pay employees the difference...rather than compromise their beliefs." Except now it looks like they've been doing just that--for quite some time.

At Mother Jones, Molly Redden reports that Hobby Lobby's employee retirement plan "held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions." And Hobby Lobby makes significant matching contributions to the 401(k)--nearly $4 million in 2012, according to the company's 2013 disclosure to the Department of Labor. In other words, Hobby Lobby invests millions in companies that manufacture the very products they want to be exempt from covering in their employee health plans--products they believe cause abortions. As Redden notes, other holdings in Hobby Lobby's mutual funds include companies that make drugs used to induce abortion, drugs administered during abortion procedures, and insurers that cover surgical abortions.

This raises an obvious question: If the Greens are so committed to the belief that they cannot in good conscience pay health-insurance premiums that might result in employees using products that could prevent the implantation of fertilized eggs, then why are they OK with spending millions annually on companies that manufacture drugs that will certainly cause abortions? In other words, as Nick Baumann put it, "either remote cooperation with abortifacients is a red line for you or it's not."

Now, the Greens aren't Catholic, but their argument is essentially that they should not be made to cooperate in any way with the provision of contraceptive services they consider definitely or potentially abortifacient. That is, they cannot abide what Catholics would call remote material cooperation with evil (in this case, abortion). Of course, it's arguable that to the extent that they've been paying insurance companies that cover elective abortions--like the ones in which they invest on behalf of their employees--they are already remotely cooperating with what they consider evil. Because most insurers do cover elective abortion for some customers. But apparently that doesn't trouble them. What disturbs the family's conscience is paying for coverage that might end up preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg.

The problem for Hobby Lobby's argument is that investing in companies that manufacture drugs and devices that enable contraception and abortion is different from paying for insurance that enables an employee to choose whether to use services the Greens object to. Hobby Lobby selects the funds it invests in. As Redden points out, if the Greens wanted to, they could have chosen funds that screen out so-called sin stocks (they tend to perform as well as other funds). But they didn't. (Hobby Lobby's legal counsel, the Becket Fund, did not reply to requests for comment.)

Hobby Lobby's employee health insurance used to include the contraception services the Greens don't want to cover anymore. Obamacare did the Greens a favor by waking them up to the realities of the health-insurance market, so before filing suit they canceled coverage of the services they consider morally objectionable. But they seem have not been so scrupulous with their investments--and investments are a different animal. The cooperation is more direct.

Basically Hobby Lobby is saying to these fund managers: Here's our money. Make more of it for us doing what you do. From a moral-theological perspective, that brings Hobby Lobby significantly closer to the "evil" in question than would any premium payments that could allow employees to use contraceptive services. First, in the United States, benefits are considered part of an employee's compensation. Second, employees might not avail themselves of such services. Third, if the Greens decided to stop offering health coverage, employees would most likely end up buying plans that included contraception on the health-care exchanges. (Obamacare does not require any employers to cover drugs designed to induce abortion.)

What might last week's oral arguments have sounded like had this been reported earlier? Hard to say. But who would want to defend a plaintiff claiming that any role facilitating the use of potentially abortifacient drugs is inimical to its religious beliefs but who can't be bothered to figure out whether the millions it invests annually directly supports the production of drugs that always cause abortions? And if a justice or two starts wondering how sincerely Hobby Lobby holds the beliefs it says ought to exempt them from the law, who could blame them?



Commenting Guidelines

What the hell is a Hobby Lobby anyway? Some kind of Walmart for scrapbookers?


From this article: Socially responsible mutual funds have become big business in recent years. But some of their holdings may surprise you.

Other SRI funds reflect different beliefs. The Ave Maria Catholic Values fund, which describes itself as "morally responsible," screens out companies that support abortion, contraception, and pornography, as well as those that "undermine the sanctity of marriage." It dropped Eli Lilly from its portfolio after the company offered domestic-partner benefits to its workers, and it won't hold Wal-Mart shares because the company sells condoms.

I am grateful for the internet. Since my personal ignorance of capitalism is vast, to paraphase Ben Domenech, the internet provides ignoramuses like me the opportunity to discover, with a few clicks of the mouse, answers to complex questions regarding 401(k)s - such as, "Can a fund be found that doesn't support x,y and z?"  Yep.

For this reader, Mr. Gallicho's article, along with Mother Jones', shows what good  journalismis all about: dig deeper for the ignoramuses of the world. Take nothing at face value and dig deeper because life is not as sincere, sweet and simple as some would have us believe. This is not to denigrate the Green's; it is to show the complexity of the issues before us. Perhaps when they return from Rome, they can revisit the 401(k)s being offered their employees and provide services that align with their beliefs.

I have heard that the Hobby Lobby employee health plan(s) offered "Plan B " coverage before they decided to dispute the requirements of the ACA.  Had anyone heard that as well?  I know that they have invested pension funds in manufacturers of Plan B, but what about actually providing that as an employee health benefit?

Abe Rosenzweig:  You are correct.  Walmart for scrapbookers is precisely what HL is.

Maybe closely-held corporations with few owners such as Hobby Lobby should be allowed to file class-action suits.

I have heard that the Hobby Lobby employee health plan(s) offered "Plan B " coverage before they decided to dispute the requirements of the ACA.  Had anyone heard that as well? 

Yes, in 2012, they said they had "recently" discovered that their insurance covered Plan B and ella - and had had them removed from  the insurance coverage  (see #55)

With respect, Mr. Blackburn, I suggest that neither you nor anyone else so far removed from the Greens can "make up your minds" about what is in their hearts, most certainly not on the basis of one-sided third party articles by Mother Jones and Commonweal. What will affect many will be the decision of the Court, which will be based upon an assumption of sincerity. That will leave it open in future cases for the question of sincerity to be explored. What is the point of an essentially bootless exercise in speculation about the Greens?


Good grief, man, are you vicariously living out a secret boner for Bob Jones through all of this Greens-boosting? 

Then why haven't they sued against those laws, rules & regs fed & state with the same claim of them infringing on their ability to practice their faith?  If they can file suit against one federal law then....

You conflate insurance with medical care.  CST is about medical care, not the means use to provide it. And contraception and abortion are clearly prohibited by the Church, your dissent notwithstanding.

There's nothing like "sincerity" as a basis for decisions on legal matters:

I sincerely do not like inter-racial marraige.

I sincerely don't want my next door neighbor to be a race different from mine.

I sincerely don't want my next door neighbor to be a religion different from mine.

I sincerely don't want people whose idea of marriage differs from mine to be able to have a marriage.

I sincerely don't like the idea that women are competing in the job market for jobs that men should be having.

I sincerely believe in the practice of plural marriage.

I sincerely believe that I should be able to withhold medical care from my underaged children.

Sorry, but Ellis's argument and facts are only partially correct.

Hobby Lobby/Green's - if they commit to offering a 401K plan, they fund the plan; choose a plan manager (Ellis makes it sound as if this basically absolves the Green's of what has happened); and decide what and how many choices employees have.

So, if the Green's truly are committed to eliminating these four contraceptives, then their 401K choice is speaking out of both sides of their mouth and really does compromise their argument.

JP - you continue to harp on what kind of material cooperation.  Fact - Greens have just as much *cooperation* in choosing a plan manager and employee plan choices as they do in choosing the type or types of medical plans for their employees.  So, my point is that the material cooperation argument (at what degree) is a side issue - the Greens have the control to make these choices - so, why are they different?  It really does smack of hypocrisy.

Ellis also states that 401K plans are not abour the corporation but the employee choices and then he goes off on a tangent about fewer employee choices; fewer or lower 401K fees for employees, etc.  This is a ridiculous and wrong statement - employees only have choices in 401K plans once the corporation and its plan managers choose and then offer these plans to employees.  So, in fact, employees (if they disagree with certain plan funds) can only (in most cases) either choose the lesser 401K plan evils or completely pass on a 401K involvement.  Not exactly a high minded move by Hobby Lobby.

From Francis' Evangelii Gaudiam:

“[I]n preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained… [A]n imbalance results… when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.”

“Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us… If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”

“Within the Church countless issues are being studied and reflected upon with great freedom. Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow, since all of them help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel.”

“With the holy intent of communicating the truth about God and humanity, we sometimes give [the faithful] a false god or a human ideal which is not really Christian. In this way, we hold fast to a formulation while failing to convey its substance. This is the greatest danger. Let us never forget that ‘the expression of truth can take different forms’.”

“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God ‘are very few’.”

If I understand a significant number of the remarks made in defense of the Green's motives I am expected to believe the Greens are unquestionably capable of discerning in absolute terms the mind of God but not the motives of money launders.  That any experienced adult would even suggest such a notion in a public forum and not expect to be called out is challenging to grasp.

Sweet Jesus, of course they are hypocrits!  The reality is hypocrisy, often enough in large measure, is a requirement rather than an impediment to "winning" a legal case.  Morality and legality are not synonymous.

The right of an employer to apply his personal morals to the investments of his employees' money is doubtful for exactly the same reason that he has no right to an opinion on the coverage of his employees health insurance.  It's not his money.  His obligation is to do what is best for them. 

For quick scholarly debate on potential arguments from the bench in the upcoming Hobby Lobby decision, check out the Religious Freedom Project’s blog, Cornerstone: