Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Judge Overturns Missouri Law on Birth Control Coverage

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Judge Overturns Missouri Law on Birth Control Coverage

Article excerpt

JEFFERSON CITY A federal judge has struck down a Missouri law exempting moral objectors from mandatory birth control coverage, because the law conflicts with an insurance requirement under President Barack Obama's health care law.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig cites a provision in the U.S. Constitution declaring that federal laws take precedence over contradictory state laws. But Fleissig emphasized that she was taking no position on the merits of the policy, which requires insurers to cover contraception at no additional cost to women.

It was not immediately clear Monday whether Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster would appeal the ruling, which was dated Thursday but not publicized. Koster's office said it was reviewing the ruling.

The Missouri law requires insurers to issue policies without contraception coverage if individuals or employers assert that the use of birth control violates their "moral, ethical or religious beliefs." The state's Legislature, which is led by Republicans, overrode the veto of Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, last September to enact the law, which appeared to be the first in the nation to directly rebut the Obama administration's contraception policy.

Missouri's law seeks to impose state requirements on insurers that conflict with the federal mandate under the Affordable Care Act that health insurers and employer-sponsored health plans offer no- cost contraceptive coverage to women.

Under Missouri's law, health insurers would be required to honor all requests based on ethical, religious and other objections by employers to exclude contraceptive coverage. This is a much broader exemption than the federal government's decision to allow "religious employers" to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage.

Fleissig had issued a temporary restraining order against Missouri's law in December. The law had been challenged by insurance providers, who feared they could be caught in a legal quagmire by the differing federal and state requirements.

In her ruling, Fleissig wrote that the state law "is in conflict with, and pre-empted by, existing federal law" and "could force health insurers to risk fines and penalties by choosing between compliance with state or federal law. …

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