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Eden Foods Endures Customer Backlash for Birth Control Stance

Jan Lee headshotWords by Jan Lee
Investment & Markets

Until June 30 of this year, Hobby Lobby was best known for its arts and craft supplies and do-it-yourself home decor options. But on July 1, that all changed.

As a result of a Supreme Court decision that its owners – and those of other “closely held” companies – did not have to provide insurance coverage for birth control, Hobby Lobby was catapulted into the partisan spotlight. A name that was once synonymous with candle-making supplies is now the poster child for businesses that object to Affordable Care Act regulations on what a company must provide for its workers.

But it isn’t the only business fighting this battle. Hobby Lobby’s unexpected court win gained the most attention, but the ACA was actually being challenged by approximately 100 small, privately-owned businesses. These companies, largely because of religious views, took exception to the idea that the insurance they provide might make it easier for women to access birth control.

And what many have been surprised to hear is that one of the largest proponents of this view (and a litigant in a battle against ACA) is the owner of an organic foods label. He's well known for his sustainability outlooks and wholesome focus on principles that are often assumed go with, well, more liberal values.

But Michael Potter, owner of Eden Foods, makes no apology for the dichotomy between his objection to being required to pay for his workers’ birth control and his progressive stance on back-to-basics farm food.

He’s used flippant comparisons to get his point across (“I’ve got more interest in good quality long underwear than I have in birth control pills.”) and has no compunctions against railing to female journalists about issues that are normally between a patient and her doctor.

Still, now that Hobby Lobby has won its case, Potter may have another chance to make his point before a judge.

His suit, in response to the Obama administration’s denial of his right to refrain from paying for health insurance that included contraception coverage, was filed in March 2013 -- and subsequently turned down by the Court of Appeals.

Hobby Lobby’s win may now give him another crack at winning this argument. That would mean his company would hold a similar status to churches and other religious nonprofits, in that it would not be expected to pay for contraception for its employees.

But the question that remains now is: At what price? As Sarah Ventiera, writer for the Broward Beach New Times notes, demographics are often an important consideration in the food industry, and Potter, and his company Eden Foods, appear to have forgotten that progressive food concepts like organic, non-GMO products often garner support from consumers who are exceedingly progressive in other perspectives as well, like healthcare and birth control.

What’s surprising is that no one has raised the fact that birth control is often prescribed for medical reasons other than contraception, and that some women would be at risk if they became pregnant. Does this mean that religious values trump the value of a human life? And what does a woman – or an employee whose wife requires birth control – do if the employer has the right to exercise his or her religious values at work over the health concerns at home?

Eden Foods customers aren’t happy with the debate, either. The angry comments and threats of boycott that the company endured in 2013 have started reappearing on Eden’s Facebook page, accompanied now by tweets of selfies from disgruntled customers who say they intend to stop buying the company’s products. Some are also returning Eden products “until the company stops its attack on birth control.”

Potter may win this one in the courts, but it’s debatable whether his company will win from the loss of business.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have heard the call and are working quickly to pass a bill that could ensure women can still be covered for contraception. The bill might pass the Senate, but it has less likelihood of making it past House Republicans. Many, after all, answer to constituents with the same conservative values that the Supreme Court’s landmark decision just backed.

Image credit: Seth Anderson

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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