Court Rejects Obama Admin’s Attempt to Force Pro-Life Legislator to Obey HHS Mandate

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 14, 2016   |   1:24PM   |   Jefferson City, MO

A Missouri state legislator filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking to exempt his family from the federal contraceptive and abortion drug mandate. State Representative Paul Wieland of Imperial is the plaintiff in the suit, which contends that the health care mandate violates his family’s First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

Wieland explains that he and his wife Theresa are devout Catholics, and that the use of abortifacient drugs violates Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life.

“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,” Wieland says.

Now, a court has rejected an attempt by the Obama administration to dismiss the lawsuit.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri has again rejected the Obama Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the principal claim asserted by Rep. Wieland and his wife Teresa against Obamacare’s HHS Abortion Pill Mandate.  The  court held that the Wieland family’s religious objections to mandated group insurance coverage for contraceptives – including abortifacients such as Plan B and Ella as well as sterilization – warranted their exemption from that mandate, based on their rights to religious liberty under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“We are pleased that the District Court has upheld our principal claim for relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” said Peter Breen, Thomas More Society Special Counsel. ”Individual citizens, such as Missouri State Senator Wieland and his family, have as powerful and robust an entitlement to religious liberty as do commercial businesses such as Hobby Lobby and churches and religious nonprofits such as the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

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Breen continued: “Rights to religious liberty, as broadly protected by the federal RFRA law, apply to individuals and families equally as they protect commercial, ecclesiastical and other religious institutions and associations of citizens.  We look forward to proceeding with our case and winning a final judgment against the Obama Health and Human Services Department (‘HHS’), represented by the Department of Justice, so as to establish fully and finally that RFRA protects the exercise of religious liberty on behalf of all American citizens – business owners, churches, and individuals and families alike.”

Thomas More Society retained Timothy and Matthew Belz of the St. Louis law firm, Otten, Leggat & Belz, to bring the lawsuit on behalf of the Wielands several years ago, and while the lawsuit asserted a variety of legal theories, its central and pivotal claim was that the HHS Obamacare mandate infringed upon the Wielands’ religious liberties because it forced them to violate their sincerely-held religious beliefs by providing health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and birth control, not just for themselves but also for their teenage and adult daughters. The District Court dismissed the case on procedural grounds late in 2013, but the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, also sitting in St. Louis, unanimously reversed that initial dismissal on appeal nearly a year later.  The appellate panel then directed that the case be heard on its merits, sending it back to the District Court for that purpose.

Once the case was back before the same District Judge Jean C. Hamilton who had granted the earlier dismissal, the Department of Justice mounted another vigorous effort to dismiss the case a second time. But while Judge Hamilton did dismiss several other legal claims urged by the Weilands (due process, procedural, and free exercise of religion claims), her decision left the Weilands’ principal claim under RFRA fully intact – the same claim that had earlier won exemptions from Obamacare’s abortion pill mandate for Hobby Lobby and for business clients previously represented by Thomas More Society, namely, Autocom of Grand Rapics, MI, and Triune and Ozinga, both Chicago area firms.   As Judge Hamilton wrote, “Congress enacted RFRA ‘in order to provide very broad protection for religious liberty.’”

The Court’s order also relied on the 8th Circuit’s decision in Sharpe Holdings, also won on appeal by the Belz firm, where the Court concluded that Obamacare’s so-called “accomm- odation” process for religious believers nevertheless “imposed a substantial burden on the eligible-organization plaintiffs because, in the event the plaintiffs adhered to their religious beliefs and refused to comply with the Mandate or accommodation regulations, they faced significant monetary penalties.”