ST. LOUIS (CNS) — A Missouri state representative has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that most employers’ cover contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs for workers, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services.
Attorneys with the Thomas More Society filed the suit Aug. 14 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri on behalf of Republican state Rep. Paul Wieland and his wife, Teresa. The suit also names the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Labor.
The case presents an unusual twist in the fight against the HHS mandate, as it is among the first to involve an employee filing suit against the mandate. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, there currently are 67 lawsuits challenging the mandate, many of them involving individual employers.
The Wielands said they are suing because the mandate violates their religious liberty, free speech and parental rights, as it requires them to be enrolled in group insurance coverage for their family that includes contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations. They are currently complying with the mandate, and are seeking an injunction to stop its enforcement.
Wieland said he was notified by letter in July that the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan, the insurance plan for state employees, would begin offering coverage under the provisions of the mandate beginning Aug. 1. Previously, Wieland had the option to purchase a plan that did not include coverage of contraceptives and other items his family considers objectionable, but in July was told he could no longer receive that type of health coverage.
The Wielands are members of St. Joseph Parish in Imperial. Paul Wieland first served in the Missouri House in 1994. He was re-elected in 2010 and again in 2012 and is a member of the Knights of Columbus. He and Teresa have three daughters, ages 12, 18 and 19, and he said the mandate will give them access to free contraceptives.
“As a parent, it is disturbing,” said Wieland. “We value our faith and make a sacrifice to teach our children the faith, to send them to Catholic schools. We have a lot invested in this and now the government says you have to do something morally wrong and you don’t have any choice. This sets a very bad example to our daughters, and we don’t have access to any parental rights here.”
The lawsuit also argues that a portion of the premiums the Wielands pay for their health care coverage partially funds medical services provided to other employees covered under the same plan. The state then contributes the remaining part of the insurance premiums as a benefit of Wieland’s employment.
“The particulars of Obamacare are now forcing our clients to participate in something they consider an intrinsic evil,” Timothy Belz, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, said in a statement. “The Wielands fervently believe abortifacients and abortion on demand do not constitute medicine or health care. Their religious faith defines abortion as the intentional destruction of innocent human life, and the Wielands believe that it is gravely immoral.”
Last fall, the Missouri General Assembly passed a law protecting the conscience rights of those objecting to paying for contraceptive coverage and abortion-inducing drugs in their health plans. The law was known as S.B. 749 during the legislative process. The bill faced numerous challenges, including a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon, which was later overridden during a special session.
Earlier this year, however, a federal judge struck down parts of the law, and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said that he would not appeal the decision.
“The intention of the founding fathers was to protect people from government imposition into their religious convictions. Instead, the federal government is now coercing our clients into abandoning their religious views and interfering with these parents’ right to raise their daughters within their Catholic principles.” Belz added, “The federal government has ignored the rights of individuals, such as the Wielands, who hold sincere religious beliefs that condemn abortion and any medication or procedure that causes abortion.”
Brinker is a staff writer at the St. Louis Review and Catholic St. Louis, the newspaper and magazine, respectively, of the St. Louis Archdiocese.