Missouri lawmaker sues to personally exempt his family from the contraception mandate

Paul WiedlandMissouri state Rep. Paul Wieland and his wife used to opt out coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion services in their state insurance plan. But under Obamacare, the plan is required to cover birth control and they can no longer do so. The Wiedlands have filed a lawsuit, saying their religious freedom is being violated and asking for a personal exemption to the contraceptive coverage mandate.

Rep. Wieland explains, “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. 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.”

Wiedland’s “moral conundrum” seems to be a partially a factual one. Emergency contraception, which is a form of birth control, is covered under the mandate. But “abortion-inducing drugs” are not. (Many private insurance plans do cover abortion services because it’s smart policy–although state legislatures are doing their damndest to ban coverage of abortion in their state exchanges.) And, of course, the logical alternative to canceling his coverage and putting his family at risk is to simply refrain from using the birth control that’s now available without a co-pay. Talk about an easy fix. But I’m guessing Wiedland isn’t actually looking for a solution to this conundrum. 

While there’s been tons of legal challenges to the mandate, the Weidlands’ may be the first by individuals seeking exemption from a group plan. But in a previous lawsuit brought by an employer , the judge ruled that the right to religious belief “is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others.” (Ya don’t say!) So perhaps this case will come down to whether Weidland and his wife have a right to force their beliefs on their three daughters, who are also covered by the plan. Here’s hoping their right to keep themselves safe from unintended pregnancies is protected.

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St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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