The XX Factor

Hobby Lobby Invests in Companies That Manufacture Contraceptives. What Hypocrites.

Hobby Lobby’s religious convictions against contraception only developed in 2012, when it needed an excuse to sue.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Hobby Lobby’s argument in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby is that its religious opposition to some forms of contraception goes so deep that it represents a substantial burden for the company to allow its employees to use their own health care plans to purchase those forms of contraception. So it’s no wonder that, in its piece revealing that Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan invests “in the manufacturers of the same contraceptive products,” Mother Jones accuses the company of “hypocrisy”:

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. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan have holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby’s health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.

It’s tempting to dismiss this by saying that mutual funds invest in a variety of companies and that these contraceptive products are just a small part of what those companies manufacture. But, as Mother Jones point out, there is a “cottage industry of mutual funds that screen out stocks that religious people might consider morally objectionable,” so if Hobby Lobby really wanted to avoid any possible connection to IUDs and the like, it could have. It might also be tempting to say that Hobby Lobby isn’t investing in contraception directly, since the company turns the money over to a third-party mutual fund. But nor is the company buying birth control directly for employees, since it turns the money over to third-party insurance companies. 

If Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit is about sincere religious conviction, investing in companies that manufacture contraceptives—forms of contraception that Hobby Lobby says are actually abortifacients—must be a moral transgression. But, of course, this has never been about sincere religious conviction. After all, Hobby Lobby offered a health care plan that covered the supposedly offensive forms of contraception right up until they decided they wanted to sue not to include that coverage. They only developed this strong religious conviction to exert control over how employees use their health care plans after the Department of Health and Human Services mandated that contraception be covered in the plan. It’s always looked to me like Hobby Lobby saw an opportunity to channel anti-Obamacare anger toward the goal of expanding the power of conservative Christian business owners over the private lives of employees, and grabbed it. (Hobby Lobby has donated millions of dollars to conservative Christian groups who look for ways to expand the reach of the Christian right over the lives of people who have different belief systems.) It’s quite possible that Hobby Lobby had no idea its retirement plan was investing in abortion before the Mother Jones report. Now that it knows, though, let’s see where the company draws its moral line.