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JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan, which covers more than 95,000 Missouri state employees and retirees, is now allowing members to opt-out of birth control coverage within the plan if it's against their "religious beliefs or moral convictions."

This comes one year after Missouri Sen. Paul Wieland (R-Imperial) was the first state employee to enroll his family in a birth control-free plan with the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan that aligned with his beliefs on contraceptives. 

After he sued the government over a requirement in the federal Affordable Care Act that forced them to pay for coverage of birth control, a U.S. district judge sided with Wieland.

After he enrolled in the plan, he released a statement that read in part, "I'm relieved my wife and I can finally participate in a health care plan that no longer violates our religious liberties...We hope this is a new beginning and that one day all Missouri families will join us in having the freedom to enroll in a health care plan that preserves their religious conscience." 

NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri Executive Director Alison Dreith released a statement Tuesday condemning the change. The statement read in part: "This latest unnecessary move furthers a fringe, anti-choice agenda and marginalizes those who use birth control as part of their daily health routine."

Missouri Family Health Council, a private nonprofit that works to get reproductive health education and services to Missourians, was also against the change by the state health care program.

"This is not the way that insurance works, and contraception should not be negotiable. And it shouldn’t be up to policymakers to decide who has access," said Michelle Trupiano, Missouri Family Health Council executive director.

Trupiano said while the plan change shouldn't affect contraception coverage for those who don't have the state plan, it can affect dependents and spouses of state employees who opt out of birth control coverage.

"The fact is that policymakers can now choose whether or not they want contraception as part of their coverage, and if they have dependents or spouses that are on their insurance it could limit their ability to access the services they need," she said.

The change by the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan also comes a month after President Trump announced a rollback on former President Obama's birth control coverage rule. 

Since 2012, Missouri has had a law that would have let the state offer plans that did not include birth control coverage, but if enacted, the state would have had to pay fines under the Affordable Care Act. 

The health care program said members have until a Nov. 20 deadline to decline those services for the upcoming year.