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Missouri lawmakers vote to allow employers to deny birth control coverage

By Kay Steiger
Thursday, September 13, 2012 10:55 EDT
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Woman holding birth control via Shutterstock
 
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Missouri lawmakers voted on Wednesday to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto on a bill that would allow employers to refuse to cover birth control and other services in employer-provided health insurance if it violates religious beliefs. The House passed the override in a 109 to 45 vote and the Senate in a 26 to 6 vote.

A female Kansas City firefighter and the Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women immediately filed a lawsuit against the bill, according to McClatchy. They argue that the bill flies in the face of the Affordable Care Act, which says insurance companies must cover “full range of contraceptive methods and services, Pap tests, screening and counseling for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), prenatal care services, the human papillomavirus vaccine, counseling and equipment for breastfeeding, and domestic violence screening and counseling” as preventative care without a co-pay. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law in June.

The suit against the Missouri law says that, “The provisions (in the legislation) are targeted heavily toward services used by female employees. (It) allows employers to refuse to cover health services in a way that disproportionately impacts women and lacks a valid business justification,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Missouri bill was passed by the Missouri legislature in May, and says “no employer, health plan provider, health plan sponsor, health care provider, or any other person or entity shall be compelled to provide coverage for, or be discriminated against or penalized for declining or refusing coverage for, abortion, contraception, or sterilization in a health plan if such items or procedures are contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of such employer.”

Nixon vetoed the bill in July, saying existing Missouri law already “provided strong religious and moral protections” but the bill passed by the legislature “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.”

Indeed, according to a Guttmacher Institute tracking of state laws on contraception coverage, Missouri is both a state that required contraception coverage by insurance companies and offers an “expansive” allowance for religious exemption, which “allows religious organizations, including at least some hospitals, to refuse to provide coverage.” The new law goes even further, by allowing insurance companies themselves to refuse coverage and expanding the right of refusal to any employer who finds it goes against their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

This is a larger trend of expanding the religious exemption to employers who are not overtly religious. Earlier this week the retail craft supply chain Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit to challenge covering birth control in Oklahoma City’s U.S. District Court. CEO and founder David Green professed, “We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”

The Associated Press reported that, “Hobby Lobby is the largest and only non-Catholic-owned business to file a lawsuit against the Health and Human Services mandate that forces all companies, regardless of religious conviction, to provide coverage of drugs the lawsuit alleges are abortion-inducing, including the morning-after pill and week-after pill.”

This is a common misconception pushed by those who opposed contraception, but a report published by the New York Times published in June determined, “Studies have not established that emergency contraceptive pills prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, leading scientists say. Rather, the pills delay ovulation, the release of eggs from ovaries that occurs before eggs are fertilized, and some pills also thicken cervical mucus so sperm have trouble swimming.”

The report continued, “It turns out that the politically charged debate over morning-after pills and abortion, a divisive issue in this election year, is probably rooted in outdated or incorrect scientific guesses about how the pills work.”

[Woman holding birth control via Shutterstock]

Kay Steiger
Kay Steiger
Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
 
 
 
 
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