Until the hearing, the government cannot impose fines against Hobby Lobby or Mardel for failing to comply with all of the Affordable Care Act. The companies' owners oppose birth control methods that can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, such as an intrauterine device or the morning-after pill, but are willing to offer the 16 other forms of birth control mentioned in the federal health care law.
"The opinion makes it very clear what is a valid religious belief and what is not," said Emily Hardman, spokeswoman for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The group is representing the companies and their owners, the Green family.
Heaton asked the government and companies to seek some sort of solution before the hearing, given that the 10th Circuit has already cleared the way for the companies to challenge the law on religious grounds. While not binding beyond the states in the 10th Circuit, Thursday's ruling could benefit others that oppose all forms of birth control, Hardman said, such as Catholic hospitals.
"We got a fantastic opinion from the 10th Circuit, which will impact all the cases," she said.
The companies had faced fines totaling $1.3 million daily beginning Monday. Had they dropped its health care plan altogether, they could have been fined $26 million. The only alternative would be to pay for birth control that violates its religious beliefs, the companies' owners said.
The appeals court on Thursday had suggested the companies shouldn't have to pay the fines, but there were unaddressed questions pending at the lower court. Heaton resolved those Friday in the companies' favor: Hobby Lobby had shown they would suffer financial or spiritual consequences, and that an injunction was in the public interest.
In fighting Hobby Lobby and other companies that oppose some or all forms of birth control, government lawyers had said companies cannot pick which portions of the Affordable Care Act with which they will comply.
Spokesmen for the HHS have repeatedly declined to comment on pending lawsuits over birth control coverage.
Electronic court filings did not show any response from the government to Hobby Lobby's latest injunction request, but Heaton said in his order that lawyers from both sides had weighed in.
Hobby Lobby's lawyers have said HHS has granted exemptions from portions of the health care law for plans that cover tens of millions of people and that allowing the companies an injunction would be no great burden to the government at the expense of the Greens' religious freedoms.
The companies' lawyers calculated potential losses at $475 million in a year — $100 per day for 13,000 workers — while harms to the government are "minimal and temporary."