A bill allowing Missouri employers to choose whether to cover contraception and abortion services may still become law, despite Gov. Jay Nixon's veto Thursday.
Lawmakers of both parties said the veto was primed for an override when lawmakers reconvene in September.
"I'd put it at a 100 percent chance that we'll pass an override in the Senate, and I would put it in the 95 percentile that the House does it, too," said Sen. Will Kraus, a Lee's Summit Republican.
House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, a Kansas City Democrat, acknowledged that opponents of the measure had a fight on their hands.
"Given the makeup of the General Assembly, it is going to be a very contentious conversation, I'm sure," Talboy said.
The bill, which easily passed the Republican-led legislature, was seen as a direct attack on the Obama administration's health care law, which includes a policy that requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives to their workers.
In vetoing the measure, Nixon said Missouri already had a law that does what the new bill called for. He said the older law -- on the books for more than a decade -- gives employers the freedom to omit contraceptive coverage from their health plans "if the use or provision of such contraceptives is contrary to the moral, ethical or religious beliefs or tenets of such person or entity."
Nixon, a Democrat running for re-election this year, said he particularly objected to a provision in the bill that would have given insurance companies the power to deny contraception coverage. The governor said insurers would have new authority "even if that position is inconsistent with the rights and beliefs of the employee or employer."
"The moral, ethical and religious beliefs of Missourians that are currently honored should not become secondary to the will of an insurance company," Nixon said in his veto message. "Such an effort would signal a retreat from the liberties enjoyed by employers and employees under the current law."
Although Nixon's veto was applauded by such groups as Planned Parenthood, Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, a St. Peters Republican, said he was disappointed by it.
The bill "doesn't in any way deny someone who wants to purchase contraceptive coverage," Dempsey argued, adding that the person could buy contraceptives at a drugstore. "But it allows it to be optional for those employers who would be paying for that option."
Other supporters of the bill included Missouri Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, and Roman Catholic bishops. Nixon's office said it received more than 10,000 messages on both sides of the issue in recent days.
Overriding the bill requires two-thirds support in both chambers. The Senate passed the measure with 26 votes, three more than needed for a veto override. In the House, however, the measure passed with 105 votes, four short of the 109 needed for override.
But 25 lawmakers were absent on the frantic final day of the legislative session when the measure was considered, and party leaders said a good number of those 25 backed the measure.
"I'm confident we can get an override," said House Majority Leader Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican.
Whether Nixon's veto affects his re-election prospects remains to be seen. Sen. Jolie Justus, a Kansas City Democrat, said she was certain that the governor picked up as many supporters with the veto as he might have lost. Missouri's largest group of labor unions, the AFL-CIO, had called on Nixon to veto the measure.
"It's probably a wash," Justus said.
But Jones warned that Nixon may pay a price for his veto because Missouri prides itself on its religious liberty.
"This issue has the potential to hurt him," Jones said.
Dave Spence, a leading Republican candidate for governor, issued a statement shortly after Nixon announced his veto decision, chastising him for not putting aside what Spence called Nixon's abortion-rights beliefs.
"Jay Nixon chose to stand with President (Barack) Obama and radical pro-choice advocates instead of the overwhelming number of Missourians who do not want Obamacare, who do not want our religious liberties infringed upon, and who are tired of the federal government over-reaching and over-regulating," Spence said.
In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback, a staunch abortion opponent, recently signed a similar so-called "conscience" bill that would allow pharmacists to refuse to provide drugs they believe might cause an abortion.
Nixon's veto came just a couple of days ahead of Saturday's deadline to sign, veto or allow bills to become law without the governor's signature. Given how contentious the measure was, Nixon's response to Senate Bill 749 was the most widely anticipated of his actions this week.
On Thursday, Nixon also signed 12 bills and vetoed nine others. One vetoed bill would have allowed communities to resume levying local taxes on vehicle purchases.
Nixon said the legislation amounted to a new tax without a public vote, and in his veto message to lawmakers he called the bill "an affront to every Missourian who has not yet had the opportunity to vote on whether to impose" the tax.