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Lawmaker takes birth control challenge to Eighth Circuit

Catherine Martin//September 8, 2014//

Lawmaker takes birth control challenge to Eighth Circuit

Catherine Martin//September 8, 2014//

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In wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, an attorney argued Monday to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that the same standard should apply to a Missouri state representative’s lawsuit that opposes insurance coverage of contraceptives for his three daughters.

Paul Wieland and his wife, Teresa, initially filed suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, among other defendants, in August 2013.

The suit challenged regulations in the Affordable Care Act that the Wielands said forced them to pay for coverage for their daughters that included contraceptive coverage, which they oppose for religious reasons. The Wielands are Catholic, and they said previously their insurance plan — the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan, which Wieland qualifies for because of his elected position — allowed them to opt out of contraceptive coverage.

U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton of the Eastern District of Missouri dismissed the case, noting that the Wielands had “not met their burden to establish standing.”

On Monday, attorney Timothy Belz argued to the appeals court that the Wielands’ personal objection to contraception coverage for their daughters, ages 13, 19 and 20, was the same as the Hobby Lobby owners’ religious objections to providing contraceptive coverage for their employees.

“The employees are to Hobby Lobby what the daughters are to Paul and Teresa,” Belz said.

Belz went on to argue that the mandate is like the federal government forcing parents to provide their children a “stocked, unlocked liquor cabinet” whenever they are away or requiring parents to pay for a cable package for their college-aged children that included pornographic channels.

Judge James Loken said there is “much greater control by parents” than there is for employers. Loken pointed out that even without coverage, the daughters could likely obtain contraceptives anyway.

Belz argued that the issue was not that the government was providing contraceptives, but that the government was forcing the parents to provide contraceptives through insurance coverage.

The damages, Belz said, stem from the fact that the Wielands either have to pay for coverage that includes the contraceptives or pay a fine for not having minimum coverage, if they opted to drop their insurance plan.

Alisa Klein, the attorney who represented the government, said the Wielands’ complaint did not specifically say they would drop their insurance plan if they had to pay for the contraceptive coverage.

Klein’s argument relied heavily on Missouri Insurance Coalition v.  Huff, in which a federal judge struck down a state law that made exemptions to contraceptive coverage for those with moral objections.

Klein also argued that allowing the opt-outs would be disruptive to group insurance, which she said is a uniform system, not one tailored by individuals.

Klein pointed out that the Wielands’ suit was the only “employee” suit so far; the other suits filed in objection to the contraception mandate have come from employers.

In a brief news conference after the hearing, Belz said he had heard from other lawyers that other similar suits will come forward soon.

“All across the country, there will be cases until the government decides to change the rule,” he said.

Wieland did not appear in court or at the news conference. Belz said it was because Wieland, who is running for a seat in the Missouri Senate, was campaigning.

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