ST. LOUIS --A Missouri legislator asked the federal court on Wednesday to exempt his family from contraception coverage through the state insurance plan, saying it violates his religious beliefs as a Catholic.
Rep. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, and his wife, Teresa, filed suit in U.S. District Court downtown against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and two other federal agencies. It asks the court to declare that the mandate for contraception coverage in the federal health-insurance law, known as Obamacare, violates their First Amendment freedom of religion.
They qualify for the state health plan through his legislative service. Wieland, 50, is serving a third term in the House and has announced his candidacy for the Missouri Senate seat held by Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Crystal City, who cannot run in 2014 because of term limits.
Wieland said they were seeking a personal exemption from the contraception requirement, not a blanket ruling against the law. But he said a victory would give the same right to other, like-minded people.
"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," said Rep. Wieland, who has three daughters. "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 said he had been able to opt out of contraceptive coverage in previous years but was notified Aug. 1 that it has become a requirement in the state plan.
A spokesman for Health and Human Services in Washington declined comment on pending litigation. Wieland's lawsuit is one of several filed across the country against the contraception mandate, which the Catholic Church strongly opposes.
The Thomas More Society, a law firm in Chicago that says it defends "life, marriage and religious liberty," assisted in Wieland's lawsuit and has cases pending in Illinois and Michigan on behalf of three employers who claim religious objections to contraception or medication they consider abortion-inducing. Timothy Belz of Clayton, lead lawyer in Wieland's case, said they may be the only plaintiffs in the country seeking to be exempted as individuals in a group insurance plan.
"But if they win, it will be of great value to other families," Belz said.
Belz was one of the lawyers who sought unsuccessfully to defend a Missouri law allowing employers or employees to opt out for reasons of conscience. In March, U.S. District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig ruled that federal law pre-empted the state exemption. Belz said the Wieland lawsuit cited another Missouri law.
Belz said legal rulings had been mixed as the issue goes through the courts. He cited a ruling by the federal appeals court in Denver in June allowing Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. to proceed with its challenge to the mandate.
Last October, a judge in St. Louis dismissed a claim by O'Brien Industrial Holdings to be exempted. Frank O'Brien, owner, said the mandate violated his morality as a Catholic. But U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson ruled that the right to religious belief "is not a means to force one's religious practices upon others" -- in this case, his employees. ___