The legal challenges surrounding Obamacare’s birth control benefit — which requires employer-based insurance plans to cover a range of preventative women’s health services at no additional cost — have centered on businesses and institutions that object to providing their workers with contraception coverage. But one Missouri lawmaker is taking it a step further. Even though he doesn’t employ any workers, Rep. Paul Wieland (R) is still filing suit against Obamacare, hoping to win a personal exemption for his family.
Wieland, who is currently serving his third term in the Missouri House and plans to run for a Senate seat next year, is insured through the state. He has previously opted out of contraceptive coverage for his family health plan. But this month, he was notified that the state is now required to offer it under Obamacare’s stipulations.
The state lawmaker and his wife, who have three daughters, say that Obamacare’s birth control provision violates their religious liberty as Catholics. “I see abortion-inducing drugs as intrinsically evil, and I cannot in good conscience preach one thing to my kids and then just go with the flow on our insurance,” Wieland explained. “This is a moral conundrum for me. Do I just cancel the coverage and put my family at risk? I don’t believe in what the government is doing.”
Wieland doesn’t quite have his facts straight. Nothing in Obamacare requires insurers to cover abortion services — in fact, many state legislatures are exploiting the health reform law to explicitly ban insurance coverage for abortion. The Missouri lawmaker is likely referring to emergency contraception, which many conservatives incorrectly construe as an abortion-inducing drug. The so-called “morning after pill” is not medically defined as an abortion because it does not actually end a pregnancy; rather, it prevents fertilization from occurring in the first place. But that hasn’t stopped a rush of religious conservatives — at both for-profit companies and religiously-affiliated institutions — from continuing to fight against Obamacare.
Wieland notes that he’s not seeking a “blanket ruling” against the health law. His lawyer thinks that he may be the first individual in the country to seek this type of personal exemption. Of course, Obamacare does not require Wieland and his family to actually purchase any of the women’s health services that their insurance plan would cover without charging a co-pay.
Lawmakers in Missouri have been particularly resistant to Obamacare’s contraceptive provision. Last year, they passed a measure intended to override it and allow employers to deny birth control coverage for any reason — and, after Gov. Jay Nixon (D) vetoed the bill, the legislature overrode him to enact it anyway. This March, a federal judge struck down that law, pointing out it was an unconstitutional violation of the federal health law.