Talk about mixed messages. If you are a business, the fines the Obama administration will levy to “punish” companies for not offering health care might actually seem to be clever incentives to get companies to drop their insurance. At the same time, for the company that is paying for health insurance but objects for reasons of conscience to Department of Health and Human Services regulations regarding abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception, the fines are disproportionately harsh, with the clear intent to be so onerous as to force compliance.

Indeed, if health care for all was the goal, companies like Hobby Lobby would be lauded, not punished.

Most companies that struggle to provide decent health insurance for their employees are likely paying thousands of dollars per full-time employee per year. Per employee costs nationwide for 2013 are projected to be $11,188. Yet companies with more than 50 employees under Obamacare will be fined only $2,000 per employee per year for dumping them onto the public exchanges, instantly cutting a company’s health care costs by more than 80 percent.

Yet a company that does provide health care for its employees — even very good health care — will see fines of $100 per employee per day ($36,500 per year) for failing to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception for those same employees.

Which brings us to Hobby Lobby. The now famous chain of craft stores is owned by David and Barbara Green and their three children. Hobby Lobby is for-profit, and it is self-insured (like Our Sunday Visitor), which means it pays directly for the medical benefits that it extends to its employees.

As non-Catholic Christians, the Greens do not have any objections to paying for contraceptives or sterilization for employees. Their only objection is to the HHS requirement that they fund those drugs or devices that induce abortions and prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. Two types of intrauterine devices (IUDs) and the abortifacients known as Plan B and ella fall under this definition.

Hobby Lobby has sued the government, claiming the regulations are violating its religious beliefs that the termination of a pregnancy is morally wrong. In the Hobby Lobby suit, it is clear what is at stake for the company should it lose its suit and be subject to the wildly disproportionate fines the government seeks to levy against them.

With 13,000 employees, the fines for not providing any health care at all would mean a $2,000 fine per employee per year, for a total of about $26 million. According to the national averages, what Hobby Lobby spends on health care currently would be many, many millions more than that fine.

Hobby Lobby scores another victory against mandate

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However, because Hobby Lobby will not provide IUDs or abortion-inducing drugs, the Obama administration wants to fine the company a whopping $475 million per year. Aside from a fierce ideological conviction that any opposition to contraception or abortion must be demolished, there can be no rational reason for this disproportionate penalty. Indeed, if health care for all was the goal, companies like Hobby Lobby would be lauded, not punished.

The Catholic bishops have been protesting the injustice of forcing morally offensive products and services on Catholic entities. But while many Americans may have no objection to contraception, they are keenly sensitive to the overreach of government. Our hope is that Catholics and non-Catholics alike see that what is animating the HHS regulations is less the desire for universal health care than the desire to crush any opposition to contraceptive and abortion services.

Why this has become such a high-stakes priority for them is anyone’s guess, but by their fines ye shall know them. 

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor; Sarah Hayes, executive editor