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Mo. Legislature votes to override veto of birth control bill

(via Flickr/brains the head)

Updated 9/13/2012, 4:51 p.m.

A Kansas City-based labor group is seeking to block the new law allowing Missouri employers to deny health insurance coverage for birth control pills and other contraceptive procedures.

The new law took effect after the Missouri General Assembly overrode Governor Jay Nixon’s (D) veto during Wednesday’s veto session.  Attorney E.E. Keenan represents the Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women.

“This bill throws millions of every day workers under the bus in the name of religious freedom, when in fact it’s the workers’ religious freedom that’s being violated," Keenan said.

The case will be heard in Cole County Circuit Court.  Keenan says they don’t have a hearing date yet, but he expects the suit will eventually wind up before the Missouri Supreme Court.

“It directly thumbs its nose at the federal government’s health care laws," Keenan said.  "We all learned in grade school that the federal law is the supreme law of the land…the legislature completely disregarded that lesson in overriding this veto.”

The new law’s supporters say employers, particularly small business owners, should not be forced to provide insurance benefits that violate their religious beliefs. 

Updated 5:44 p.m.

The new law has now been hit with a lawsuit.

Later Wednesday, an attorney for the Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women said it was seeking an injunction against the measure. Among other things, the lawsuit claims the Missouri measure conflicts with President Barack Obama's health care law, which requires insurers to cover contraception.

Updated at 3:20 and 6:45 p.m.

The state House has also voted to override Governor Jay Nixon's  (D) veto, meaning the legislation is now state law. 

Both chambers needed a 2/3rds majority to override the veto, and the House got exactly that margin.  The vote there was 109-45, the exact minimum required for passage.  Seven Democrats joined Republicans in voting "yes," although the override nearly failed because three Republican House members were not on the floor during the vote.  The final vote authorizing the override was cast by State Rep. Chris Molendorp (R, Belton), who voted against the bill on the final day of the 2012 session.

The new law gives employers the option of denying coverage for birth control, abortions and sterilization.  GOP Assistant Floor Leader Jeannie Riddle (R, Mokane) says it’s about both religious freedom and protecting small business owners.

“To require them to go against every moral fiber of how they choose to operate their business, I believe it goes against every moral fiber of us as Americans," Riddle said.

Riddle also cut off floor debate after making her comments.  The measure had a much easier time in the Missouri Senate today.  The override passed there 26-6, well more than the required 2/3rds majority.  Governor Nixon was obviously disappointed, saying the new law will weaken women’s options and give too much power to insurance companies.

“For the first time, it puts the insurance company in a position to refuse to provide that as part of their coverage," Nixon told reporters after the vote.  "That’s an impediment to that woman – what would otherwise be accessible to her in her policy, wouldn’t be…I see that as an impediment.”

Today's override marks the second time the Missouri General Assembly has reversed one of Governor Nixon's vetoes.  Lawmakers also overrode the veto of the state's new Congressional map during last year's redistricting battle.

The initial House vote on May 18 was 105-33 - five votes shy of the 2/3 majority needed to override a veto. However, 25 state representatives were absent that day.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis called the override a "powerful pro-life statement" and a "victory for Catholics, people of all faiths, and more specifically, Missouri citizens who value religious liberty."

Our earlier story: 

Missouri senators have voted to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill expanding religious exceptions for insurance coverage of birth control.

The vote Wednesday sends the bill to the House, where a two-thirds vote also is needed for an override.

The legislation lets individuals, employers and insurers cite religious or moral exemptions from mandatory insurance coverage for abortion, contraception and sterilization. It's intended as a rebuff of an Obama administration policy that requires insurers to cover birth control at no additional cost to women, including those employed by religious nonprofits such as hospitals, colleges or charities.

A 2001 Missouri law already requires birth control prescriptions to be covered under policies that include pharmaceutical benefits. That law also allows insurers to offer policies without contraception coverage to those who say it violates their beliefs.

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Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.