A Missouri lawmaker fighting required birth control coverage in his state-sponsored insurance plan is relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby ruling as he contests a lower court’s rejection of his legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act mandate.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis heard arguments Monday morning in a lawsuit by Republican state Rep. Paul Wieland of Imperial and his wife, Teresa, against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and two other federal agencies.
Wieland’s lawyer Timothy Belz urged the three-judge panel to reverse the U.S. District Court’s November 2013 ruling, citing the Supreme Court’s decision this summer that private companies such as Hobby Lobby with religious objections can opt out of the contraceptive requirement under the federal health care law. The Wielands have three daughters, ages 13, 19 and 20
Justice Department lawyer Alisa Klein, assistant director of the agency’s civil division, said the legal challenge by Wieland is the only such case she is aware of involving an individual seeking an exemption from the federal health insurance plan’s birth control coverage. Dozens of private employers have challenged the contraception mandate on religious grounds, including the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which in July won a preliminary injunction in the same St. Louis-based federal court that had previously rejected Wieland’s claim.
Belz compared the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan’s coverage of birth control and abortion-inducing drugs as the moral equivalent of forcing Mormon parents, whose religion forbids alcohol consumption, to “stock unlocked liquor cabinets” for their children’s use when the adults aren’t home to enforce the restriction.
The appellate panel heard 20 minutes of arguments each from attorneys for Wieland and the federal government but didn’t immediately issue a ruling. Judge James Loken in particular voiced skepticism about Belz’s legal reasoning.
“There’s much greater control by a parent than an employer,” he said. “All the parents have to do is say, ‘We expect you to abide by our religious tenet.’ That’s a non-event.”
Wieland, a three-term representative who is running for the state Senate in November, did not attend the hearing. A member of his legal team said Wieland was in Jefferson City preparing for the start of this week’s legislative veto session.
Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at http://twitter.com/azagier