Hobby Lobby

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Hobby Lobby (HL) is an arts-and-crafts retail chain based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It was founded by David Green in 1970 as Greco Products, a decorative frame company, on a loan of $600 which he quickly repaid. In 1972, he renamed the company Hobby Lobby and opened its first retail store in Oklahoma City.s As of 2010, the chain consists of 456 stores in 39 states, more than 18,000 employees, and $2.2 billion in sales. (As of 2012, this became 514 stores in 41 states with 13,240 employees.s) The stores are wholly-owned by the company, rather than being a franchise.

Despite its financially-sound beginning, the company ran into debt issues in the late 1980s. They apparently made some changes as to how they handled money, and two years later they were debt-free and have never gone into debt again.

Green and his family are evangelistic Christians and believe in promoting Christianity through their business. Green, estimated by Forbes (~2010) to have a net worth of $2.6 billion, has contributed many millions of dollars to aid the evangelism movement – according to Green, more than 50 deals totalling over $300 million from 1998-2010 – including:

Hobby Lobby has also contributed heavily to Christian charities in China, where most of their products are manufactured.

Obamacare controversy

On September 12, 2012, Hobby Lobby against the US federal government over the Obamacare employer mandate to provide contraception in any health insurance offered to employees.

On September 19, 2013, plaintiffs in the original case petitioned the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for a writ of certiorari against Hobby Lobby (Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby [W]).

At issue are two emergency contraceptives, Plan B (Levonorgestrel [W]) and Ella (Ulipristal acetate [W]), which Hobby Lobby claims might cause abortions and is therefore opposed to on religious grounds. The suit regards the question of whether employers may be required to violate their religious beliefs, or whether the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act forbids such a requirement.

This suit is ethically problematic in several ways:

  • Factuality of the abortion claim
  • Hypocrisy in timing of the objection: The insurance HL offered to its employees had already included these drugs; it was only after Obamacare mandated the inclusion of these drugs that they objected.
    • HL claims that the mandate caused them to do a close review of the drugs offered under the healthcare plans offered, and it was only then that they discovered the two to which they object.
  • Hypocrisy in opposing abortion under Obamacare while indirectly supporting abortion in China
    • The vast majority of HL's products, though initially made by the family, are now made in China, a country notorious for human rights abuses -- including forcing members of its female workforce to have abortions.
      • It is unclear whether this applies specifically to the workforce which makes HL's products, or if HL has gone to any efforts to vet the manufacturers from which they purchase.
  • Wanting it both ways: Obamacare does not actually require HL to provide insurance; they pay a penalty if they don't offer insurance meeting the standards required by Obamacare, but the penalty would likely be less than the cost of the insurances (and helps to subsidize plans for those who otherwise couldn't afford them). They could offer insurance that doesn't meet the standards and forego the penalty, or they could not offer insurance -- but they want the right to offer only substandard insurance without penalty.
  • Claiming responsibility where none exists: Even granting the premise (highly debatable) that Ella might cause abortions, the actual act of deciding to purchase and use Ella would rest with their employees. That HL considers itself morally responsible for the decisions of their employees suggests that they regard their employees as incapable of making moral decisions, and that they are more than willing to interfere with the moral convictions of their employees despite arguing that their own moral convictions must not be interfered with. (This view is essentially authoritarian in nature.)

There appears to be a sound basis, at least preliminarily, for the claim that Ella (Ulipristal acetate [W]) might cause abortion, as it is apparently harmful to the fetus. However, it is very unlikely to do so in the doses recommended for emergency contraception.