A Missouri state representative who wants to stop his daughters from accessing birth control recently won a victory in his ongoing suit against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception regulations when the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear arguments in his challenge to the regulations, thus reversing a lower court ruling that threw the case out on standing.State Sen. Paul Wieland (R-Hillsboro), who identifies as Roman Catholic, says the regulations violate his religious beliefs and that he has a “religious freedom” right to block contraception coverage for his three daughters. As a state employee, Wieland receives insurance through the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan, which adheres to federal guidelines – including coverage for free birth control.
Wieland filed suit in 2013 against the regulations, and he’s deployed some rather novel legal arguments in his defense. Among the best: His attorney, Timothy Belz of the Religious Right-allied Thomas More Society, told a court in 2014 that asking Wieland to provide contraception access to his children is akin to asking Mormon parents to “… provide a stocked unlocked liquor cabinet in their house whenever they’re away for their minor and adult daughters to use.”
Belz also cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell to argue that his client’s daughters are legally equivalent to the craft store chain’s paid employees.
“The employees are to Hobby Lobby what the daughters are to Paul and Teresa Wieland,” he asserted. “The government is holding a gun to our head and saying this: ‘Either you give up your conscience or you give us your money.’”
To Wieland and his wife (he insists she shares his convictions), the First Amendment gives them the freedom to determine whether or not his children access contraceptives coverage—even if they’re legally adults.
“There’s much greater control by a parent than an employer,” Wieland has explained. “All the parents have to do is say, ‘We expect you to abide by our religious tenet.’ That’s a non-event.”
It’s remarkable, truly, that this argument failed to persuade the lower court. Instead, the court sided with the government, which pointed out that Hobby Lobby didn’t apply to individuals—no matter how much that individual doles out in Tooth Fairy money.
But like any good culture warrior, Wieland refused to surrender: He just rerouted his line of attack.
When the 8th Circuit hears the latest round of arguments in the case, the elected official will no longer insist that his children are like Steve Green’s employees. Wieland intends to argue instead that the very act of purchasing an insurance plan that covers contraception violates his “religious freedom” rights, and that the state should provide a contraception-free insurance plan as an alternative.
As Ian Millhiser previously argued at ThinkProgress, a ruling favorable to Wieland could negatively impact contraceptive coverage for everyone else.
“[I]magine a plaintiff who doesn’t just object to their daughters having birth control — they object to anyone having birth control,” he wrote. “The nature of health insurance is that all of an insurance plan’s participants pay into a pool of money than any other participants can draw money out of when they need medical care.”
If an individual objects to contraceptives on principle, Millhiser concluded, the only way for the state to make sure he isn’t obligated to pay into a pool that covers the drugs is to prevent insurance companies from offering them to anyone.
And no word, still, on what their daughters think about any of it.
That’s unlikely to change. Their views have always been completely irrelevant to their father’s legal crusade. The court will not consider their personal religious beliefs, nor will it take their medical needs into account. If their father succeeds, and a Wieland daughter requires contraception either to treat a medical condition like endometriosis or, yes, even to prevent pregnancy, she’ll simply be out of luck.
Wieland may not have much of a chance of winning his case. But the arguments he’s presented demonstrate again that fundamentalist opponents of the contraception regulations don’t care that their actions may negatively affect other people.
This self-centered definition of religious liberty isn’t really liberty at all. It certainly has no constitutional basis. Here’s hoping the 8th Circuit agrees.