ST. LOUIS – Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, doesn’t have to provide his daughters access to birth control through his health insurance, a federal district court judge ruled Thursday.
After a three-year legal battle, Wieland and his wife won the judgement that because of their religious beliefs, they do not have to comply with the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“It’s a win for people of religious faith,” Wieland said. “I think that even though it’s probably not over, you take wins where you can get them.”
Judge Jean C. Hamilton granted the Wielands’ motion for summary judgement while denying the government’s. That means the Wielands should be able to opt out of contraception coverage in the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan.
“When you put that together with the Missouri statute that the judge makes reference to in her opinion, it’s clear now that the Wielands should be able to go to MCHCP and get a contraceptive-free policy, as they did before Obamacare changed things,” said Tim Belz, the Wielands’ attorney.
The case had previously been appealed to the Eighth District Court of Appeals because it was initially ruled that the Wielands didn’t have standing to sue. The appeals court reversed that ruling last year.
While the case represents a victory for the Wielands, it’s probably not a final victory. The government may still appeal and both Wieland and Belz think that’s a probability.
“I would be really surprised if the government just sits there and takes this ruling without doing some kind of appeal,” Wieland said. “I wish that they would just leave it along and say, ‘yeah, you won. We’re going to allow you to opt out of the plan.”
Belz said it could take up to 60 days for the federal government to decide whether to appeal.
“They don’t always tell us what their plans are,”” he said. We’ll see. I’d like to think this case is over and that the Wielands can go and get their policy and go on with things. It’s kind of up to the government.”
The Wielands participate in the MCHCP because as a senator, Wieland is a public employee. Previously they had been able to check a box that allowed them to opt out of contraception coverage because of their religious beliefs.
Under the Affordable Care Act, that changed and they no longer had an option. As devout Catholics, the Wielands objected. Hamilton’s ruling bare’s out that belief.
“It’s a vindication of what we were saying was correct. The judge sided with our argument that the federal government shouldn’t force us as catholic parents to provide contraception and abortion coverage to our daughters.”
Belz became an attorney for the Wielands because he saw what had been happening with employers suing over their rights not to have to provide contraception coverage. Those lawsuits culminated in the Hobby Lobby ruling.
While Wieland’s lawsuit began before that ruling, Belz felt that if corporations had the right to not provide contraceptive coverage because of their religious beliefs, then certainly parents shouldn’t be mandated to provide coverage to their children.
“Especially after Hobby Lobby came out. I said, ‘Well for sure, this family has just as a good a right, if not better, than the owners of Hobby Lobby,’” he said.
While Hamilton said her ruling applied specifically to the Wielands and their healthcare provider, Belz said the case should provide precedent for others with similar concerns.
“If I were in the same shoes as the Wielands, I would take this case to the insurance company and say, ‘Look what the court did for the Wielands. If you make me go to court, the court will do the same thing for me,’” Belz said.
The Wielands were also represented by the Thomas More Society.