The lawyers behind the Hobby Lobby suit believe they have a closed case when it comes to their clients’ religious liberty being violated by allegedly being forced to provide health insurance that includes contraception coverage. After all, they argue, the Green family, who owns the company, have sincere and honest beliefs that a new and complete life is created at the exact moment of conception, a life that is protected by God and completely equal to anything born and living independently outside a womb, and that despite scientific evidence to the contrary, some forms of contraception may stop that separate life from implanting in the uterine lining and completing its journey to birth. Others may not agree, but the Hobby Lobby owners are adamant that they themselves will play no role in promoting anything to stop that life from becoming a baby.
Unless of course they are profiting financially, of course.
A Mother Jones investigation into the company’s employee retirement accounts shows a portfolio chocked full of companies that are invested in developing, marketing and selling contraceptives. “Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company’s owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) 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,” writes Molly Redden. “Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).”
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The investment into pharmaceutical companies, even those that provide birth control, IUDs and even actual abortion inducing drugs, isn’t that surprising. After all, Hobby Lobby’s own insurance plan had been providing full contraceptive coverage for years before that fact was brought to their attention by lawyers searching for plaintiffs to sue the government.
Of course, conservatives are trying to bend over backwards to explain how this is neither hypocrisy nor a violation of the Hobby Lobby religious beliefs. “It’s the Hobby Lobby employees that would be disenfranchised by the twisted logic employed by Redden…” writes Ryan Ellis. ”They are the ones–not their bosses–who choose which mutual funds to invest in. This is true both of the employee’s elective deferral and the employer’s match. The menu of choices is primarily provided not by the Hobby Lobby employers, but by the 401(k) plan administrator, who helps select a wide menu of mutual fund (and, increasingly, exchange-traded fund) choices so that the fiduciary obligations of the plan are met.” Ellis then goes on to explain that with 401Ks the employees are in charge, it is their money and the employer only puts in a small sum, and that employees are investing in funds that contain hundreds of companies they may not support, but which come in a package together for less risk.
Wait, that sounds a lot like how insurance works, too.
Hobby Lobby doesn’t have to offer any sort of insurance, or offer the insurance that is mandated under Obamacare, but could pay a penalty instead. Hobby Lobby also pays one portion of the insurance, while the employees pay the rest. Employees get to choose an exact plan type, the people in their family they choose to have covered, the doctor or hospital in the network, likely even the level of out of pocket costs they are willing to stomach and the premium they will have monthly. With their insurance they receive coverage for many things they may never need — oncology, orthopedics, heart disease treatments, diabetes, physical rehabilitation and, yes, birth control — because that is how insurance works, and that levels out the risk pool for every one involved.
And they may have beliefs that are not the same as their employer.
Anti-abortion activists have long used boycotts and investment pressures as a means of strong arming companies they believed were supporting abortion. In 2011 activists tried to encourage Pepsi shareholders to urge the company to stop using “aborted fetal cells“ in their taste tests (they don’t), while a graphic bloody fetus truck isn’t unusual at a Berkshire Hathaway investment meeting.
Hobby Lobby has no more obligation to offer a 401K program, or a vast variety of mutual funds, or provide a match themselves, than they do to offer insurance. They do it because it draws better employees to their stores and headquarters, which saves them money in turnover costs, and because they can write off contributions which cuts the amounts they have to pay in taxes. It’s a sound business decision. Then again, so is no copay birth control coverage, which cuts maternity costs and makes for happier employees. Yet that somehow infringes on their religious beliefs, despite being a nearly identical situation.
At some point you have to ask, is this a “sincerely held religious belief?” Or is it just a cynical political ploy?