Mo. Attorney General Declines To Appeal Ruling on State Contraceptive Coverage Law

April 15, 2013 — Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster (D) on Thursday said he will not appeal a federal ruling that struck down a state law (SB 749) allowing employers and health plans to refuse to cover contraceptives on moral, ethical or religious grounds, KCUR reports (Gordon, KCUR, 4/11).

Republican lawmakers and antiabortion-rights groups had urged Koster to appeal the ruling. According to the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, an appeal could still occur if a judge decides to grant a request from a St. Louis not-for-profit to intervene in the case for the purpose of filing an appeal (Lieb, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/11).

The law revised a 2001 Missouri statute that stated insurers "may" offer individuals and employers policies without contraceptive coverage if they request it. The new law said that insurers "shall" offer plans without the coverage. The new law also established grounds for the state attorney general and others to file lawsuits claiming religious infringement if entities that object are required to cover birth control.

A group representing health insurers sued over concerns about conflicts between the new law and federal rules requiring most health plans to cover contraceptive services at no additional cost to beneficiaries. In striking down the law, U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig noted that federal law takes precedence over contradictory state laws (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/22).

Koster said in a statement, "The Republicans' attempt to deny contraceptive coverage to women in Missouri is just plain foolishness." He noted that efforts to exempt contraceptive coverage from employer-sponsored insurance "cannot be supported by case law or sound public policy."

Clarity Sought on Ruling

Koster's office also filed a motion on Thursday that said that a lack of clarity in Fleissig's ruling could have the "unintended consequence" of prohibiting insurers from providing insurance without contraceptive coverage to religious organizations.

Noting that the judge struck down parts of the new law as well as an older law, the filing stated, "That left an unintended Missouri law that is inconsistent and more burdensome than federal law." The filing urged Fleissig to amend her ruling to make it clear that federal exemptions for religious employers would apply in the state (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/11).