Missouri legislators close to approving bill to curb coverage on contraception, sterilization
The Missouri General Assembly appears to be on its way to approving a measure to allow businesses to decline to provide coverage for “abortion, contraception or sterilization.”
The bill would allow any medical professional to decline to be involved in such procedures.
Pharmacies also could decline to stock any drug or device.
The Missouri House passed the bill, SB749, on Wednesday, 117-37, a veto-proof majority. A similar version already has passed the Senate by a veto-proof vote of 25-6.
The differing versions now will go to a conference committee to hash out some of the House’s latest amendments, in hopes of final votes before Friday’s adjournment.
Start of update: Just after midnight Wednesday night, the House was told that the Senate disliked the House's amendments and wanted them dropped from the bill. House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka, persuaded House members to stick with the provisions and press the Senate for negotiations "to see what we can work out on this." End of update
Among other things, the House amendments include a provision – approved 101-39 -- that also allows an enrollee in a group health plan to “exclude and not pay for coverage” of elective abortions.
Jones called the measure’s provision allowing workers to decline to pay for such coverage “a fundamental liberty item.”
Overall, he said the measure was “a comprehensive bill to go far to protect religious freedom and liberties.”
But opponents said the measure went far beyond existing state law that protects medical professionals who object to participating in abortions.
“This bill is about limiting access to birth control,” state Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, said. She asserted the medical personnel could even refuse to handle a woman’s medical records.
Jones acknowledged that the bill may be in conflict with the federal health insurance mandates in the Affordable Care Act, now before the U.S. Supreme Court. But he added that it was important to make clear that health insurance coverage was a matter for the states to handle, not the federal government.
Start of update: Missouri Right to Life told the Beacon late Wednesday that the bill "gives the state of Missouri standing in the courts to file suit against the HHS (federal Department of Health and Human Services) mandate that all businesses, including religious institutions and those affiliated with such institutions, provide coverage for services that are counter to the moral teachings of that religion."
“The mandate for religious institutions to participate in destroying innocent human life goes against the core religious beliefs of many faiths," said Right to Life state president Pam Fichter.
"This attack on our religious freedom is in stark opposition to our first amendment right to practice our religion. Make no mistake, the attack by the Obama administration has nothing to do with women accessing contraception, but is an attack on the religious freedom guaranteed by our Constitution.” End of update
Newman contended that the bill amounts to “deciding (that) your religious beliefs will supersede my religious beliefs.”
State Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, asserted, “They want government out of the way, but here we are putting government in the way.”
The debate got emotional at times, with Jones decrying the “shrillness and hysteria’’ from opponents.
Jones – slated to be the Missouri House’s next speaker -- said that most people back the sentiment behind the bill. He cited the 71 percent of Missouri primary voters in August 2010 who voted for Proposition C, which sought to exempt Missouri from the federal health insurance law.
An ally, Rep. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, touched off laughter – and some verbal anger – among legislators when she went into graphic detail about an abortion procedure as she explained why the bill required an “emergency clause’’ to allow it to go into effect as soon as the governor signs it into law, circumventing the usual three-month delay.
Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has not indicated what he thinks of the bill. Nixon generally is seen as supporting abortion rights, although since taking office in 2009 he has allowed a couple bills aimed at imposing related restrictions to become law without his signature.
Wednesday's action capped several years of effort by abortion opponents to win approval of legislation to allow pharmacies to decline to supply or fill prescriptions for drugs related to contraception, including the so-called "morning-after pill" that can be used to prevent pregnancy.
Abortion opponents contend that some contraception actually cause abortions. Critics deny that's the case and say the debate distracts from the real intent to make contraceptives less available to women.
Newman said after the vote that she found some of Jones' comments to be "demeaning and sexist."