Contraception

The Hippie Hobby Lobby: Eden Foods Says No to Birth Control


Eden Foods Soymilk

Courtesy Eden Foods

Eden Foods Soymilk

Here are two companies you don’t often read about together: Hobby Lobby and Eden Foods.

Hobby Lobby is currently known as the arts-and-crafts chain run by the Greens, an evangelical Christian family in Oklahoma who successfully challenged the contraception requirement of the Affordable Care Act. Eden Foods calls itself the oldest natural and organic food company in North America. Chances are that if you buy organic food, you’ve bought Eden’s soy milk, beans, or pasta. The company, which started as a food co-op, is owned and run by Michael Potter, a practicing Catholic who similarly doesn’t want to provide birth control to his employees.

In fact, Potter’s objections go farther than those that took the Hobby Lobby case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Greens refused to cover four kinds of birth control they consider tantamount to abortion, while Potter objects to paying for any form of birth control. Eden Foods filed a lawsuit last year, seeking exemption on religious grounds, and lost. Following the Supreme Court’s decision on June 30, Eden’s case is being reconsidered.

The renewed legal push by Eden has prompted calls for a boycott of its products. An online petition has been signed by some 150,000 people amid vocal concern about carrying Eden products in some of the country’s most prominent food co-ops—which are, naturally, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Austin, Tex., and Madison, Wisc.

Eden’s lawyers at the conservative Thomas More Law Center didn’t respond to a request for comment about the possible boycotts. A few days after Hobby Lobby’s victory, Eden posted a statement on its website that says in part:

“Eden Foods is a principled food company. … We realized in making our objection that it would give rise to grotesque mischaracterizations and fallacious arguments. We did not fully anticipate the degree of maliciousness and corruption that would visit us. Nevertheless, we believe we did what we should have.”

A week later, an additional statement concluded: “We would love to see people become so motivated in their support of organic agriculture and toward the improvement of our nation’s food system.”

Eden Foods is based in Clinton, Mich., about an hour’s drive from where it started in Ann Arbor, Mich. It has annual sales of $55 million and 128 employees. And it turns out that Potter has never provided coverage for birth control. Until Obamacare began requiring insurers to do so, the company’s insurance policy with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan specifically excluded contraception in all forms, which Potter believes “almost always involve[s] immoral and unnatural practices.” In Eden’s insurance policy, birth control fell into the category of “lifestyle drugs.” So did Viagra (PFE).

Potter’s not talking these days, but earlier he proved to be a lively defender of his beliefs. “I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s (BF.B) or birth control. What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that?” he told Salon last year. “I’m not trying to get birth control out of Rite Aid (RAD) or Wal-Mart (WMT), but don’t tell me I gotta pay for it.”

Susan-berfield-photo-200x200
Berfield is a writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York. Follow her on Twitter @susanberfield.

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