Nixon vetoes measure targeting coverage of contraceptives
Days before the deadline, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has vetoed a bill that would have allowed employers to decline to provide coverage for abortion, contraception or sterilization.
In his veto letter made public this morning, the governor said that state law already “provided strong religious protections’’ that allow employers to decline to provide coverage for abortion or contraceptives.
But Nixon said the new bill, SB 749, extended such rights to insurance companies and would allow them to deny such coverage “even if that position is inconsistent with the right 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.
Nixon's long-awaited action has political ramifications, since he's running for re-election this fall. Although he favors abortion rights, the governor has allowed several measures adding more restrictions to go into effect without his signature since he took office in 2009 -- a fact that had both sides in the current debate wondering whether Nixon might that approach again this time.
He did not, although Nixon repeatedly emphasized at a news conference this morning in Jefferson City that the state's current laws already achieved the results sought by SB 749's advocates.
The governor said he shared their main belief that "our churches should be free from the encroachment of government and politics."
Nixon then cited current Missouri law, passed more than 10 years ago, which stipulates that employers can decline to pay for contraception "if the use or provision of such contraceptives is contrary to the moral, ethical or religious beliefs or tenents of such person or entity."
Nixon noted that the state's existing exemptions regarding contraceptive coverage "apply whether the employer is a church or religious organization, or not... Under our existing law, employees and employers can already opt out of providing or receiving contraceptive coverage if doing so conflicts with their religious or moral convictions."
The difference is that "current law also ensures that women and families who want contraceptive coverage can get it," Nixon said, by going directly to the insurance company for the coverage.
He said he objected to allowing insurance companies to block coverage, calling that "one significant – and negative – change" from current law, which makes no provisions for allowing insurers to opt out of covering contraception.
The governor's action is likely to prompt an attempt this fall by the Republican-controlled General Assembly to override his veto. A veto-override majority in the Senate passed the bill, but the House fell four votes short.
(Start of update) State House Speaker-elect Tim Jones, R-Eureka, issued a release promising to attempt a veto override. "It is outrageous that Governor Nixon chose to side with pro-abortion interest groups and President Obama against a measure protecting the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty for Missourians against Obama's HHS mandate," Jones said.
Just as I led the effort to pass this bill in the Missouri House of Representatives, I will lead the effort to override Governor Nixon's veto," he added.
State Sen. John Lamping, R-Frontenac and the bill's chief sponsor, asserted, “The governor’s office indicated to me this morning that the governor philosophically agrees with the bill, but that he vetoed this legislation due to an alleged minor technicality. I look forward to the governor sharing his timeline on reconciling the matter. We cannot wait until January to fix this legislation as the federal mandate becomes effective in August.” (End of update)
The governor’s decision had been sought by the state’s AFL-CIO and reproductive-rights groups, since as Planned Parenthood, which said the measure went far beyond Missouri's current laws allowing employers to opt out of some coverage that violates their religious or moral beliefs.
(Start of update) Mary Kogut, vice president of Patient Services at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said in a statement: “We applaud Gov. Nixon’s veto. Given that the vast majority of Missourians support access to birth control, we know they are applauding the governor, too. Legislators, employers and insurers should not be making decisions for the women and families of Missouri."
Said NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri executive director Pamela Sumners: “Gov. Nixon wisely recognized that existing Missouri law already protects the rights and liberties of religious institutions. He also wisely recognized that insurance companies shouldn’t have the right to override a woman’s or a family's decisions about birth control." (End of update)
But Nixon's action likely will anger anti-abortion and some religious groups, including the Catholic Church and Missouri Right to Life, which had contended that current law is inadequate.
They also are upset over provisions in the federal Affordable Care Act to require no-cost contraception coverage be made to women employees through most group health plans or through insurers, including those employees in universities and hospitals affiliated with a religious group. Churches, synagogues and other religious institutions would be exempt.
(Start of update) The Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a statement that "expresses deep sadness today" as a result of Nixon's veto.
The governor's action "weakens the rights of Missouri citizens leaving them without full protection of their religious liberties," the archdiocese said. "SB 749 would have required insurance companies to let people know up front whether a proposed policy included coverage for abortions or contraceptives. It would have allowed those with objections on moral grounds to have insurers exclude these items from employee’s health plans. This is a profound missed opportunity to assert conscience rights for Missouri citizens when those rights are in jeopardy from the federal HHS mandate."
Missouri Right to Life president Pam Fichter said that SB 749 was "in response to the HHS mandate from Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama Administration forcing religious institutions to pay for abortions. SB 749 would have sent a clear message that pro-life Missourians oppose participating in the taking of innocent human lives against our religious beliefs. SB 749 also would have placed in statute the ability for people of faith to bring a lawsuit if they are forced to pay for morally objectionable procedures...."
Nixon, a Democrat, had been under pressure from all sides, and his staff had reported receiving thousands of emails, phone calls and letters on the topic.
(Start of update) Political reaction from both sides poured in.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri offered praise. “We applaud Gov. Nixon for standing up for the reproductive rights
of Missouri women by vetoing SB 749 today. SB 749 would have put
health insurers in the difficult position of having to obey an unconstitutional state law at the expense of women’s reproductive rights; Gov. Nixon’s action today spared the state from what would have been an expensive and disruptive mandate.”
State Rep. Shane Schoeller, R-Willard and a candidate for Missouri secretary of state, called for an override. “I am deeply saddened to see Gov. Nixon choose personal politics over taking a stand to protect our religious liberties,” said Schoeller.
Kirkwood businessman Dave Spence, a Republican candidate for governor, also attacked Nixon's decision. "I am proud of Sen. (John) Lamping and the members of the Missouri House and Senate who recognized that religious liberty is a cornerstone of our constitution and form of government," Spence said in a statement.
"Jay Nixon should have put his pro-choice beliefs aside and signed this important legislation. Jay Nixon chose to stand with President 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 overreaching and overregulating." (End of update.)
Although Nixon didn't mention sterilization in his veto letter, his staff had told legislators during their deliberations that the provisions in the now-vetoed bill appeared to be too broad and would allow employers to decline to cover even medically necessary sterilizations or hysterectomies.
The state's exemption under current law doesn't apply to sterilizations, including hysterectomies, so employers can't decline to cover the procedure.
Vetoes car tax, ends circuit clerk's elective status
All told, Nixon vetoed 10 bills today. He said they would be his last vetoes of measures passed this last session.
The governor also vetoed a bill to allow car dealers in some parts of the state to reinstate local taxes on vehicles purchased out of state. The Missouri Supreme Court recently ruled that such taxes first must be voted on by the public.
Nixon had telegraphed his intentions regarding that bill weeks ago, saying that a public vote needed to be taken, and noted that some local jurisdictions already had held such votes.
The bill had been sought by some auto dealers in eastern and western Missouri who said they would lose business to counterparts in Illinois, Kansas and other border states if the tax weren’t reimposed on out-of-state purchases.
Some Republican legislators wanted to reinstate without a public vote because they didn't want to be seen as advocating a tax hike. Some GOP lawmakers accused Nixon weeks ago of playing politics with his already public complaints about the bill.
Nixon also signed 12 bills into law today. One has particular significance for the St. Louis. It eliminates the St. Louis circuit clerk as an elective citywide office and makes it an appointive post under the jurisdiction of the city's circuit judges. The judges have sought that power for decades.
The new law does allow current St. Louis Circuit Clerk Jane Schweitzer to complete her term.