By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS — The Missouri General Assembly’s decision to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s contraception bill veto Wednesday has sparked a lawsuit to prevent the legislation from becoming law.
The Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women filed a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court late Wednesday seeking an injunction against the measure, which allows state employers to refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraception on religious grounds.
“We consider this move to be just another right-wing assault on workers limiting our members’ options and choices,” said Edward Keenan, an attorney representing the group. “Our message is loud and clear: When you attack workers’ access to health care, labor fights back.”
Missouri legislators created the bill in response to an Obama administration policy that requires employers to provide coverage for contraception. Initially, the federal policy required all employers to offer the insurance, but President Barack Obama backtracked to allow an exemption for religious employers.
The Missouri law allows any employer to decline to offer the coverage.
The lawsuit says that since the Missouri statute conflicts with federal law, it should be thrown out. The plaintiffs also say the contraception law violates the Missouri Human Rights Act, which prevents discriminatory practices by employers on grounds that include gender and religion.
Proponents said the bill was not about access to birth control, but who should have to pay for it. Critics argued the law was likely to lead to lawsuits, and noted it could force insurers to choose between violating federal or state law.
In vetoing the bill in July, Nixon wrote on his website that he was concerned the legislation “would shift authority to make decisions about access to contraceptive coverage away from Missouri women, families and employers — and put that power in the hands of insurance companies.”
The veto passed by the narrowest of margins. While the state Senate easily got enough votes for the veto, the House rounded up just enough of the 109 votes required to overturn the governor’s decision.
The discussion in the House sparked spirited debate.
Linda Black, a pro-life Democrat from Bonne Terre, said she fears the negative consequences of reducing the availability of contraception.
“I don’t believe this bill, in my heart, will prevent abortions,” she said. “I think if we cut off the contraception to women we’re going to create more abortions, and I’ll never vote for anything that would create that possibility.”
State Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, said government should stay out of the insurance and religious affairs of employers and employees.
“In no way, shape or form should we be telling them morally that they have to go against who they are and what they believe,” she said.
“Conservatives do not respect a woman’s right to choose,” she said.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a statement that the veto override was “a powerful pro-life statement, one that gives us hope that conscience rights will be extended to all U.S. citizens.”
This was only the second Nixon veto overturned, and the 24th in the state’s history.