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Government, Politics & Issues

Area legislator hopes Hobby Lobby case bodes well for his challenge to contraceptive coverage

Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
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This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - Missouri Rep. Paul Wieland and his lawyer see nothing but good news in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that all insurance policies cover contraceptives as of Jan. 1.

Wieland, R-Imperial, has asked the St. Louis-based 8th Circuit of Appeals to hear his legal challenge to that mandate on the grounds that it violates his parental rights.

Wieland, who has been in court since August, is fighting the requirement that his insurance cover birth control. A devout Catholic, he says he has a religious objection to providing such coverage for his three teenage daughters.

Wieland’s case is among several Missouri contraception-related cases before the appeals court. Lawyer Timothy Belz believes the case could be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

In fact, Wieland and Belz contend that their case is an even stronger one because it centers on an individual’s religious and parental rights.

“Our theory is, if business owners can get relief” from contraceptive-coverage mandate, then it’s a no-brainer that the high court will grant such rights for an individual as well, Belz said.

Area court cases challenge birth-control coverage

Said Wieland: "They're similar, but they're different. Hobby Lobby is saying they don't want to provide (birth control) coverage to employees. I'm saying I don't to provide it for my children."

Among other things, Wieland contends that some covered forms of birth control constitute abortion, although some medical experts and reproductive-rights groups say that's not true.

Wieland’s case initially was dismissed a couple weeks ago by a district court. But he and Belz have appealed to the 8th Circuit, and this week filed a request for an injunction to allow Wieland to get insurance coverage without the contraception coverage after Jan. 1, while his legal fight continues.

The 8th Circuit already is dealing with two St. Louis cases involving Catholic businesses that are making similar arguments to Hobby Lobby's. It’s unclear when the 8th Circuit will rule on those cases or if it will wait to see what the Supreme Court decides in the Hobby Lobby case.

The Missouri General Assembly also passed a law in 2012 allowing companies to refuse insurance coverage for birth control, abortions or sterilizations. That law -- enacted over Gov. Jay Nixon's veto -- was tossed out by the courts. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has declined to appeal that ruling, igniting ire from legislative leaders who backed the exemption, including House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka.

So far, area reproductive-rights groups aren't commenting about the Supreme Court's decision. However, the national Planned Parenthood Federation of America issued a statement saying that a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby "could deny millions of women access to affordable birth control and set a dangerous precedent allowing businesses to deny their employees a whole host of other medical procedures and treatments to which they are legally entitled, based on the employer’s personal beliefs."

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