A member of the Missouri Legislature and his wife who took a bold pro-life stand of conscience have been vindicated by a federal court. State Senator Paul Wieland
of Imperial has won a major victory in U.S. District Court in St. Louis in his challenge to the Obama Administration's contraceptive and abortion drug mandate.
U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton has ruled that Senator Wieland cannot be forced to purchase health insurance for his family that includes coverage of abortifacient drugs. Judge Hamilton declared that the mandate as applied to the Wieland family was a violation of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
At issue in the case was a provision in the so-called Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as Obamacare. That section delegated to the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to determine what "essential benefits" must be included in all health insurance policies sold and issued in the United States.
Former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
issued a decree that all health insurance plans must include coverage of all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration, without co-pays or deductibles. The FDA's list of approved contraceptives include abortifacient drugs such as Ella and Plan B, which have the capability to destroy a developing embryo. Such drugs are often marketed as "emergency contraception" or "morning-after pills."
Senator Wieland and his wife Teresa are life-long devout Catholics, and as a result, they oppose the use of contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization, or any action which would require them to finance their use. Because of the mandate, they had the choice to participate in a health insurance plan and underwrite drugs and devices they find morally objectionable, or forego health insurance for their family and face punitive fines under the Affordable Care Act. Judge Hamilton
ruled that Senator Wieland should not have to make that choice, because it violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Under RFRA, the federal government cannot "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion." The law states that a
"substantial burden" exists when government "conditions receipt of an important benefit upon conduct proscribed by a religious faith, or where it denies such a benefit because of conduct mandated by religious belief."
"The only way plaintiffs can comply with their religious conscience is by dropping their insurance altogether, which would result in them foregoing a valuable job benefit; in the assessment of thousands of dollars per year in fines pursuant to the individual mandate; and in leaving their daughters without health insurance," Judge
Federal case law allows an exception to the "substantial burden" test when there is a "compelling governmental interest," and when the law in question is "the least restrictive means" of furthering that interest. However, Judge Hamilton said that the government could allow a system where individuals could simply check a box to opt out of contraceptive coverage, which was the law in Missouri before the federal mandate nullified it.
Senator Wieland is grateful that his conscience rights were affirmed by the district court ruling. "It's a win for people of religious faith. The judge sided with our argument that the federal government shouldn't force us as Catholic parents to provide contraceptive and
abortion coverage for our daughters."
It is unclear what the scope and long-term impact of Judge Hamilton's ruling will prove to be. She confined her ruling to the Wielands' individual case, and said that it should not be construed to affect health insurance plans offered or provided to individuals other than the plaintiffs and their defendants.