JEFFERSON CITY – Lawmakers voted on Wednesday to overturn Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill allowing employers in Missouri to refuse to provide health insurance coverage for birth control.
The bill states no employer or health insurance provider can be compelled to provide coverage for contraception, abortion or sterilization if doing so violates their religious or moral convictions.
When the governor vetoed it earlier this summer, he said Missouri law already gives employers the freedom to omit these types of coverage in their health plans on religious grounds.
But Nixon argued that it goes one step too far by giving insurance companies the power to deny contraception coverage -- even if an employee wants it and is willing to pay for it.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. John Lamping of Ladue, said the governor’s argument is not valid. Current law is not being properly enforced, he said, and a recent mandate from the Obama administration that health insurance plans must cover contraception will force employers to choose between “their religiously held beliefs and this mandate.”
"The mandate will lead to employers deciding they can no longer offer certain benefits to their employees," he said.
Critics argued that the bill will put Missouri insurance companies on a collision course with lawsuits by forcing them to choose between violating state or federal law. But more importantly, they contend, it could limit a woman’s access to birth control.
“Women depend on family planning and birth control access to plan their families, which determines their economic status,” said state Rep. Stacey Newman, a Richmond Heights Democrat. She later added: “Women are listening, and they are watching what we do here today.”
State Rep. Sandy Crawford, a Buffalo Republican and the bill’s House sponsor, said there is nothing in the bill that would prevent a woman from obtaining birth control. They would just have to pay for it themselves, she said.
“This bill is about protecting our religious liberties,” she said. “This bill does not prohibit the sale or purchase of contraception.”
But making it more difficult to access birth control could put many woman and families in a difficult fiscal position over how to pay for something that is considered basic health care, Newman said.
In urging her colleagues to support the governor’s veto, state Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, said anyone who opposes abortion should support making contraception more readily available to woman.
“If you are pro-life, be pro-life. That’s OK,” she said. “But tell the truth. Contraception is not the same as abortion. In fact, contraception prevents abortion and unwanted children.”
Sen. Jolie Justus, a Kansas City Democrat, called the legislation a complete waste of time. The true motivation behind the bill, she said, was politics.
“Only reason this is happening is because this is an election year,” she said. “Under current law, if an employer wants to opt out of contraceptive coverage they can. This bill is meaningless.”
The Senate overturned Nixon’s veto on a 26-6 vote. In the House, the veto was overturned with 109 votes, the exact amount needed for a two-thirds majority. The deciding vote was cast by Rep. Chris Molendorp, a Belton Republican who voted against the measure when it originally passed in May.