Mo. Enacts Abortion, Contraceptive Coverage Refusal Law; Injunction Requested To Block Measure

September 13, 2012 — The Missouri Legislature on Wednesday voted to override Gov. Jay Nixon's (D) veto of a bill (SB 749) that would allow employers to refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraception, abortion or sterilization procedures for moral or religious reasons, the Huffington Post reports.

The Senate voted 26-6 to override the veto, while the House -- which needed at least 109 votes for an override -- succeeded by a vote of 109-45 (Bassett, Huffington Post, 9/13). Most of the law's provisions took effect immediately, although some parts will be delayed for 30 days.

The measure revises a 2001 Missouri law that requires health insurance policies that include pharmaceutical benefits to cover birth control prescriptions at the same copayment or deductible levels as other medications. The 2001 law allows health plans to offer policies without the coverage to employers or individuals who oppose contraception, and it ensures that employees can purchase a plan that includes the coverage if their employer does not offer it.

The 2001 law states that insurers "may" offer individuals and employers policies without contraceptive coverage if they request it, while the new law says insurers "shall" provide plans without the coverage. The new law also establishes grounds for the state attorney general and others to file lawsuits claiming religious infringement if entities are required to cover contraception.

Nixon cited the 2001 law when he vetoed the bill in July, saying that the state already provides strong protections for religious beliefs. He condemned the override on Wednesday, saying, "By their act today, the legislators who voted to override this veto are standing between women and their right to make their own personal decisions about birth control."

Although Missouri and 20 other states have religious refusal protections, Missouri's new law is the first to directly refute the federal contraceptive coverage rules, according to the National Conference of State Legislators and supporters of the law (Lieb, AP/Kansas City Star, 9/12).

Injunction Requested

The Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women filed a request for an injunction in Cole County Circuit Court against the law, arguing that it conflicts with the federal rules.

Some critics of the law also said it could result in costly litigation as employers and insurers try to comply with both state and federal requirements (Nelson, Springfield News-Leader, 9/12).

Mike Hoey -- executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference -- dismissed concerns that the law would deny birth control to women, but he acknowledged that the law conflicts with federal policy. "If the (federal) mandate is upheld, then I think our state law becomes problematic," he said.

State Sen. Jolie Justus (D) said she agreed to allow votes on the legislation as part of a deal with GOP Senate leaders to not pursue other abortion or contraception-related bills during the 2012 session. "At best, this is a cheap political stunt that re-states current law," she said, adding, "At worst, it just creates another obstacle to women accessing birth control" (AP/Kansas City Star, 9/12).