Extended legal battle
The Yeps ran into a roadblock in 2007, however, when they learned that the state of Illinois, where their business is located, was mandating contraceptive coverage in all insurance plans. By 2011, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had issued a similar mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Yeps were primed and ready to file a lawsuit.
“We had been looking at this and asking, ‘How did they have the right to force this into our policy?” Mary Anne said. “Of course we would fight.”
In 2012, with the help of the Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm, the Yeps filed suit in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois, alleging both the state and federal mandates violated their right to religious freedom. Soon after, they filed a separate challenge to the state mandate in Illinois’ DuPage County Circuit Court.
At press time, the Yeps were moving toward resolution of their cases, thanks largely to last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. But the fight against mandated contraceptive coverage is far from over.
According to the Becket Fund, which is representing EWTN and the Little Sisters of the Poor in their challenges to the federal mandate, more than 100 similar suits have been filed.
Among the legal challenges from 56 non-profit organizations, 31 injunctions have been granted and nine denied. However, on March 9, the Supreme Court vacated one of those denials involving the University of Notre Dame and sent the case back to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of the Hobby Lobby ruling.
The Hobby Lobby decision, which applied the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to regulations governing private companies, is considered a victory for the 49 businesses that filed suit.
“Hobby Lobby was a great win for all of us,” said Kevin White, the attorney who introduced the Yeps to the Thomas More Society and later took over their case, “but it didn’t immediately solve our problem under the Illinois mandate.”
Initially, White said, Illinois had not been willing to acknowledge Hobby Lobby’s impact on the Affordable Care Act, preventing the Yeps from obtaining a conscience-compliant insurance policy. “We think it still does,” White explained, “but under the Hobby Lobby decision, the ACA has a conscience exemption, which Illinois must also recognize.”
After the Hobby Lobby ruling, the federal government offered to settle the other cases of businesses challenging the contraceptive mandate by agreeing not to enforce the directive. Many plaintiffs, White said, have accepted the settlements, but the Yeps had been unable to do so until now because the Illinois mandate question remained unresolved. The Yeps have since begun taking the necessary steps to have their case dismissed, and they now believe they will soon be able to obtain a conscience-compliant policy for their employees.
Still another complication, he said, is that as soon as the Hobby Lobby decision came out, the government began circulating new regulations that supposedly comply with the ruling and govern how for-profit companies can opt out of the mandated coverage.
“As far as we are concerned, they are as offensive as the old ones,” White explained. The new regulations, he added, are more similar to what had been in place previously for religious organizations, requiring them to fill out a form that triggers an obligation on the part of the insurance carrier to provide the objectionable coverage. “That’s the new issue and I strongly suspect it will go to court again.”
White said he would like to paint a positive picture for businesses that oppose the mandate. “But at this point, I probably want to sound the alarm.”
“This is why we need to continue to be vigilant and continue to fight,” said Chris Yep, president and CEO of the family’s Oakbrook, Ill.-based health care management company.
White said many business owners don’t even realize that contraceptive coverage is in their policies. “It’s absolutely certain today that many good Catholic business owners haven’t thought to look into their policies to see what’s in there. Even if they look, they have to know how to look.”
What also remains unresolved in the fight against the federal mandate are the cases involving non-profit organizations, including religious charities, dioceses and universities.
Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, said it’s ironic that non-profit groups are still having trouble securing an exemption when the Hobby Lobby case granted one to for-profit companies.
“You would think if for-profit businesses were entitled to an exemption, the Little Sisters and other non-profits would be in an even stronger position. But those cases are still developing and there are still sharp differences among some of the courts that have addressed those issues.”
Still, he said, barring some change in the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, he thinks the Little Sisters, whose case is working its way to the high court, will be as successful as Hobby Lobby.
“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is proving to be a very effective weapon,” he explained. “It’s a pretty bedrock protection for our people of faith, absent of which we live in a totalitarian state where religion counts for nothing, even though [freedom of religion] is in our Constitution.”
Courage and conviction
Meanwhile, the Yeps, who received Legatus’ 2012 Courage in the Marketplace Award, say they are in the fight for the long haul.
“I don’t think we went into this fight with any expectations that it was going to be a short-run battle,” Chris said. “If it’s not this court case, there will be another. We’re fighting for the Culture of Life.”
His wife of 41 years, who is Triune Health’s vice president and chief personnel officer, concurred.
“If we’re willing to be used by God to represent this cause,” she said, “then we have to correspond, whether or not we have the strength or ability, to do whatever it takes and just say yes.”
For the Yeps, that has gone beyond filing lawsuits. It’s meant engaging legislators and store clerks in conversations, informing their employees where they stand and speaking at rallies and conferences. “We won’t change the culture unless we’re willing to talk about it,” Mary Anne explained.
The couple’s commitment has taken them to the Supreme Court in Washington, where Chris joined White in listening to arguments in the Hobby Lobby case and where Mary Anne spoke at a rally after the decision was announced.
In citing Triune Health’s designation in 2012 by Crain’s Chicago Business as the Best Place to Work for Women in greater Chicago, she said, “I can tell you it wasn’t because we have contraceptives available in our coffee room. It was because we treat our women authentically with dignity, with respect.”
In their fight against mandated contraceptive coverage, the Yeps said they have received an outpouring of support from business leaders, including fellow Legates. But they would like to see more Catholics involved.
“There are an awful lot of us who have received the gift of Baptism who, for whatever reason, are not fully living out what God has called us to do,” Chris said. “It’s really up to us. We can change the culture if we band together and do what we’re called to do.”
JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.