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Koster won't appeal ruling on law allowing firms to decline contraception coverage

In Backroom

4:42 pm on Thu, 04.11.13

Updated at 10:44 am on Fri, 04.12.13

Attorney General Chris Koster won’t appeal a federal court decision striking down a new state law that allows employers to exclude contraception, abortion or sterilization from insurance coverage.

Chris Koster
Chris Koster

Koster, a Democrat, asked the federal judge who wrote the decision to amend her ruling so that religious organizations could exclude contraceptive coverage if they’re exempt under federal law.

Last year, the Missouri General Assembly overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of legislation saying that employers could not be forced to provide insurance coverage for abortion, contraception or sterilization if such coverage violated their religious or ethical beliefs. The Missouri Insurance Coalition ultimately filed a lawsuit to strike the measure down.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Fleissig ruled that the law, known as SB749, violated federal requirements in the Affordable Care Act. Fleissig, a former U.S. attorney who served during President Bill Clinton’s administration, noted that in case of a conflict, federal law supersedes state law. Republicans, including House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, had urged Koster to appeal Fleissig’s ruling.

But in a brief, Koster’s office stated that it “recognizes, and does not seek to relitigate or appeal, this court’s ruling regarding the supremacy of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage provisions to insurance carriers, businesses and individuals who, by their conduct, have freely chosen to enter the stream of commerce.”

The brief went onto ask the court to “alter or amend its judgment as applied to religious employers, such as the Archdiocese of St. Louis, that have been explicitly exempted by the Obama administration from the ACA’s contraceptive mandate.

“Without alteration or amendment, the court’s ruling would subject Missouri’s religious employers to an insurance mandate that is not required by federal law, was never contemplated by the Missouri General Assembly, and cannot be supported by principles of federal preemption,” the brief stated.

In a statement, Koster said "the Republicans’ attempt to deny contraceptive coverage to women in Missouri is just plain foolishness.” 

“The Republican effort to deny contraceptive coverage cannot be supported by case law or sound public policy,” he added.

While Republicans did aggressively push SB749, it wouldn’t have become law without the votes of seven Democratic House members who voted to override Nixon’s veto. Several Democratic senators voted for the measure as well.

Lamping says decision is 'typical' of Koster

Start of update: State Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, handled SB749 in the Missouri Senate. He said in a telephone interview that he wasn’t surprised by the attorney general’s decision, adding that it’s “typical Attorney General Koster fashion.”

John Lamping
John Lamping

“Every time I’ve seen Koster decide things, he’s always decided to go both ways,” Lamping said. “’I’m against it, but I’m for this. I won’t join the lawsuit, but I have my amicus brief. Oh, I’m not going to appeal it, but I want the judge to do this.’ That’s typical Chris.”

But the first-term senator said he was surprised that Koster called the measure “foolish,” adding that “an overwhelming percentage of Missourians think not – they’re happy that we did that.” He also said that the word choice may have had to do with his likely gubernatorial bid in 2016.

“I would have thought that after Zweifel decided not to run, Attorney General Koster wouldn’t be so concerned about a primary,” Lamping said. “But I guess he feels he needs to be out on the left until the time comes that nobody files against him in a primary.”

Lamping went onto say that the federal lawsuits filed against contraception mandate will ultimately decide what happens with the issue.

“Until we get to a point where there’s a general sense that the legal aspects of the mandate are settled, I think we just wait and watch that,” Lamping said. “There’s nothing we’ll do in the next five weeks. … We know how long these things take and we’re just going to see what happens." (End of update.)

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