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Legislator Tells Federal Appeals Court Why He Objects To Birth-Control Coverage

Rep. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial

The lawyer for state Rep. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, predicts that his suit against mandated contraceptive coverage will help launch an avalanche of court challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s provision requiring insurance companies to offer such benefits.

But first Wieland needs to persuade a federal appeals court to reinstate his case. A lower court had tossed it out.

On Monday, Wieland's lawyer Tim Belz – a special counsel with the Thomas More Society -- told a three-judge panel with the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Wielands are unfairly being required to obtain insurance coverage that includes coverage for contraceptives.

The parents, devout Catholics, object to having such coverage for their three daughters, Belz said.

“The problem here is that the government has dragooned the parents,’’ Belz said. If they take the insurance coverage, they are violating their conscience, he asserted.

Wieland argues that if businesses can drop contraceptive coverage on religious grounds, as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, then employees should be able to reject the coverage as well.

The insurance in question is Wieland’s coverage through the state government because he is a member of the General Assembly. He could obtain coverage through his business that could exclude contraceptives, but it would be much more expensive, Belz said in an interview later.

Wieland wasn't present for the court arguments because he was campaigning for the state Senate, Belz said.

One appeals court judge, James Loken, warned Belz that he needed to focus his arguments on why Wieland has standing to bring the case, and not on the merits of the case, which would include Wieland’s objections to the coverage.  A lower court had dismissed the case over the issue of "standing."

The judges also asked whether Wieland’s case is one for the state courts because his beef is with his insurance coverage. Belz said that the state insurers were simply complying with the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, which Wieland opposes.

The lawyer for the federal government, Alisa Klein, argued that group insurance coverage – such as that covering employees for the state of Missouri – can’t be individually tailored to reflect what each employee wants covered and what they don’t.

“Different people will have different beliefs,’’ she said, citing as examples some individuals’ objections to certain childhood vaccinations. Klein agreed that Wieland has no alternative for insurance coverage within Missouri state government but alluded to the fact that he could obtain other private insurance.

The point of group coverage is to provide insurance for a variety of medical procedures, Klein said. The recipients can decide which coverage they want to use.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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