This week in litigious politicians: MO state rep sues federal gov’t over birth control in ACA

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It’s been in the media for just a few days but has already received national attention. Missouri Representative Paul Wieland and his wife are suing the federal government for “forcing” them to receive health insurance benefits that include coverage of birth control, which is against their religious beliefs.

Rep. Wieland, quoted here:

Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan (MCHCP) sent a letter last month informing me that even though in January 2011 I had enrolled in a plan without coverage of abortion inducing drugs because of my religious belief and moral convictions, they were placing me in an insurance plan that includes these objectionable procedures.

The MCHCP and the Obamacare health plan forces my family to participate in what we feel is an intrinsic evil. Terri and I fervently believe abortion inducing drugs on demand do not constitute medical or healthcare. My family believes abortion is the intentional destruction of innocent human life which according to our beliefs is gravely immoral.

Rep. Wieland and his wife seek an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control mandate, which states that all employee-based health insurance plans must provide reproductive health coverage at no additional cost. The mandate does not force women to actually use birth control, but makes it available and affordable to women who do need it.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Forget for a moment that in no way does the ACA (commonly referred to as “Obamacare”) force insurance providers to cover abortion services, despite claims to the contrary. It’s possible that Rep. Wieland and his wife have confused emergency contraception with “abortion-inducing drugs,” a rather common mistake made by people who need a better understanding of human reproduction and how birth control works.

Emergency contraception, like the many forms of birth control regularly prescribed by doctors, prevents pregnancy from happening in the first place; it does not end or abort an already fertilized egg. Emergency contraception–also known as Plan B and the “morning after pill”–is sometimes wildly misrepresented by politicians with an anti-women’s health agenda. Despite this, the FDA recently approved Plan B for over-the-counter purchase, eliminating the need for a doctor’s prescription and health insurance coverage.

So back to the claim that the ACA forces the insured to pay for abortion against their will. This particular topic has long been argued and debunked as political hyperbole. Federal funds cannot be used to fund abortions, except when medically necessary to save the life of a woman, or in the case of rape and incest. Furthermore, the ACA stipulates that every state must have at least one plan on the exchange that does not offer abortion coverage. There is no opposing requirement that one or more plans on the exchange must offer abortion coverage.

Check it out:

The law requires at least two national plans in every state within four years, overseen by the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which will negotiate rates and contracts.  The law says at least one of the multi-state insurers must be a nonprofit, and at least one must not offer abortion services.

That’s not enough? States have the right to prevent insurance providers on the health insurance exchange from covering abortion services. Thus, anti-choice folks are more than protected by law from paying for or otherwise participating in religiously objectionable abortion services.

Why this matters

Clearly, Mr. Wieland has only two options; keep the “intrinsically evil” health insurance coverage he is offered as a government employee or, as he put it:

Do I just cancel the coverage and put my family at risk? I don’t believe in what the government is doing.

Perhaps feeling backed into a corner and unaware of the irony, Rep. Wieland is keeping his insurance coverage and suing the federal government for putting him in this morally awkward, unavoidable position. Unavoidable, that is, unless there were another option. Another option such as paying for his own private insurance plan. This is a popular alternative to government health care [Medicare/Medicaid] espoused by more than a few state lawmakers who don’t want to expand Medicaid to cover uninsured Missourians. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right?

RFT reports:

He tells us he conferred with a friend who works in the health-insurance industry and realized there was no insurance plan accessible to him that excludes coverage of these practices.

It’s interesting to note that there may be no other health insurance plans accessible to Rep. Wieland [R-Imperial], given that Congressional Republicans have voted dozens of times to repudiate the ACA, which includes the aforementioned health insurance exchange. The health insurance exchange, accessible this October, would offer consumers more insurance options and promote competition amongst health insurance providers.

The intention there is to make a wide range of insurance coverage more affordable for and accessible to everyone. Another provision of the ACA offers tax credits to help Americans pay for private health insurance, ostensibly making pricier options available to people who could not otherwise afford them. Lest we forget, the exchange would also have at least one insurance plan that does not cover abortion services.

But Wieland’s own voting record shows he has voted “yes” on Missouri legislation prohibiting the implementation of the ACA. Say, isn’t that like shooting yourself in the foot? I hope the state’s government employee health insurance covers self-inflicted wounds, this seems to be a trend.

It will be interesting to see if Rep. Wieland’s dilemma and resulting lawsuit will put things in perspective for him. Right now, there are thousands of hard-working Missourians who have even fewer health insurance options than him, and they could really benefit from the ACA, particularly the expansion of Medicaid. This is an opportunity to do more than take a moral stand for himself and his own family, he can still do the right thing for about 300,000 Missourians too.

Stacy Mergenthal (41 Posts)

Stacy Mergenthal is an activist for progressive causes and voice for the working class. She currently resides in Missouri with her family.