Despite the urging of a top state lawmaker and some Catholic groups, Missouri’s Attorney General will not appeal a recent court ruling, which struck down a state law that would have required insurance companies to exclude birth control coverage if employers had religious, ethical or moral objections.
State And Federal Rule Conflict
Senate Bill 749, approved after the state legislature overrode the governor’s veto last year, comes in direct conflict with the so-called contraceptive mandate under the federal health law. The federal provision requires that most employee health plans include no-cost coverage of contraceptives. Religious organizations, like houses of worship, are exempt from the rule.
The state bill, which requires insurance companies to exclude birth control coverage if employers have objections, was supposed to take effect at the beginning of the year. It then got held up in court after the Missouri Insurance Coalition filed a legal challenge.
"The way it was set up, if you follow the federal law, you’re violating state law and if follow state law you're violating federal law," Brent Butler, with the coalition, told KCUR last month.
In her ruling striking down the Missouri law in March, U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig said that federal law trumps state law in these instances.
Groups Call For Appeal After State Law Struck Down
Catholic Bishops in the state then called on Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to appeal the ruling.
Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, a Republican, also urged Koster to do so. From KSMU:
“749 said that if you have a religious, or a moral, or simply a business objection, to being required to provide contraception in your insurance vehicles you do not have to do so. The state of Missouri is gonna to give you the shield to having to provide service, those types of incidences, in your insurance plans,” Jones said at a Pregnancy Care Center in Springfield. “If one right can be breached and violated, every single right under our constitution can be violated; both our U.S. and Missouri Constitution. As our Attorney General, Chris Koster, has a duty to continue to defend – his job is not over – he has a duty to continue to defend the laws which a supermajority of your representatives in your House and the Senate have passed.”
Attorney General On State Law: "Plain Foolishness"
In a statement released this afternoon, Koster, a Democrat, said “the Republicans’ attempt to deny contraceptive coverage to women in Missouri is just plain foolishness” and couldn’t be held up in court.
Koster did, however, file a motion seeking clarification on one part of the recent ruling, to ensure that exemptions outlined in the federal law, mainly to religious employers like the Archdiocese of St. Louis, stay in effect.
Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri’s President, Peter Brownlie, issued a statement applauding Koster’s move:
“Today’s decision by Attorney General Koster is a step forward for Missouri women and families. It affirms the importance of basic preventive health care and women’s access to birth control without obstacles.”
Ever since it was issued, the federal birth control mandate has faced strong objections and legal challenges from several religious and non-religious groups around the country, including some in Missouri. They allege the no-cost contraceptive coverage violates their religious and moral freedom.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, meanwhile, will soon issue its final rules on the provision.