State Rep. Paul Joseph Wieland and his wife Teresa are suing the Obama administration over its minimum coverage requirements for health plans under the Affordable Care Act, which includes contraception. They say the government is forcing them to violate their religious beliefs because they have three daughters, ages 13, 18 and 19, who are on their parents’ plan and might get birth control at no additional cost.
Wieland’s lawyer makes this comparison:
[Attorney Timothy] Belz also said that making birth control more accessible under health plans was “as though the federal government had passed an edict that said that parents must provide a stocked unlocked liquor cabinet in their house whenever they’re away for their minor and adult daughters to use, and Mormons came in and objected to that. It is exactly the same situation.”
Except that that’s not how insurance works. No one is requiring Wieland to hand his daughters birth control, or to keep a stock of birth control on the kitchen table for easy access. What the law says is simply this: health insurance companies must cover birth control with no deductible or copay. That’s it. Yes, Wieland has his daughters’ on his health insurance plan. His wife is on it too, so she, too, has access to birth control as well. It’s about ensuring that insurance companies cover women’s healthcare, period.
Look, health insurance companies cover blood transfusions. I suspect they’re required to by law, too. Could a Jehovah’s Witness parent object, because his adult son might get a blood transfusion should he ever be in need of one? Applying Wieland’s logic leads to a mess. I mean by his logic, parents should be able to pick and choose through their children’s health insurance and pick and choose which things their children can have covered, provided they can make a religious justification and completely irregardless of their adult children’s religious beliefs.
Now of course, the fact that Wieland’s daughters can get birth control on their parents’ plan doesn’t mean they have to get birth control. And if they share their parents beliefs on the subject, they won’t. But Wieland is concerned that they might not share his beliefs.
One of the judges pointed out that parents might have more control over their kids than employers, and that parents could just say to their kids, “We expect you do abide by our religious tenets.” Belz replied, “Well, we all have high hopes for our kids, that is true. We all expect and want them to obey us, they don’t always …”
These girls are 18 and 19. They’re not children, they’re adults.
There are two ways to look at this. We could say that Wieland is trying to prevent his adult daughters from having access to affordable birth control, and we would be correct. But Wieland’s legal claim is slightly different. Wieland says that paying for his daughters birth control would violate his religious beliefs. In other words, he says this is about his beliefs and his conscience, not about whether or not his daughters are using birth control. But again, this isn’t how insurance works. It wasn’t in the Hobby Lobby case, and it isn’t here. Unfortunately, Hobby Lobby won its case, suggesting that the Supreme Court thinks this is the way insurance works.
Now, Wieland could simply drop his daughters from his plan, and maybe we should be grateful for them that he’s not going that route. Wieland is arguing that his religion requires him to provide healthcare for his daughters. The problem is that he’s using this argument to prove that the law requiring birth control coverage violates his religious beliefs.
The Wielands have argued in their brief that providing health coverage to their daughters – which, thanks to the same Affordable Care Act, they can do until their children turn 26 – is also part of their religious beliefs. “The Plaintiffs cannot terminate their daughters’ health insurance coverage without violating their religious duty to provide for the health and well being of their children,” they wrote in one brief.
I think it’s awesome that Wieland believes he should continue to pay for his daughters’ health and well being through providing them with healthcare. It would be even more awesome if that belief extended to all of women’s health care. The problem is Wieland’s view of birth control. You would think that a parent in his shoes might want his daughters to abstain from premarital sex, but also want them to have access to birth control should they decide to have sex anyway (after all, a parent cannot prevent an adult daughter from having sex). But no.
Christians who oppose sex before marriage tend to feel that access to birth control increases the likelihood that young people will have sex. This is probably not all that true for young people who are already taught that sex before marriage is sinful. After all, if you belief something is sinful and may send you to hell, whether or not you are protected against STDs or pregnancy is the less important worry. Christians who oppose sex before marriage also tend to believe that having unprotected sex is less sinful than having protected sex. This is because using birth control shows that the sex is premeditated. You can see this last point illustrated in this short video clip:
Wieland is Catholic, which adds another dimension. The Catholic Church teaches that birth control is unacceptable for even married couples. Families may use natural family planning to space their children out—provided they go about it with the right attitude of openness to children—but that’s it. So for Wieland, this isn’t just about his adult daughters having premarital sex, it’s about them using birth control at all. Of course, they’ll have to leave their father’s insurance when they marry, so Wieland won’t have any say regarding their use of birth control in marriage.
I have no idea what Wieland’s daughters think of all of this. They may be completely involved and invested, as I would have been at their age. I would have seen it as a way to fight back against the big bad government in favor of our religious beliefs. But at 21 I would have seen it differently. At 21 I would have felt used, and I would have wanted out. Frankly, I probably would have gotten off my parents’ plan entirely and found a way to make a go of it on my own, were I in their shoes. After all, that’s what I did when it came to paying for college. I didn’t want anything else they could use to control me and my choices.
When it comes down to it, Wieland wants the right to use his daughters’ insurance coverage to control their sexuality. He wants to have a say over whether the insurance he obtains for his family gives his adult daughters’ access to birth control. In a world where patriarchy reigns supreme, this request would be reasonable. But we don’t live in that world. We live in a world where adult women are allowed to make their own reproductive choices (or at least, that is the world we should live in).