by Sam Levin
Last week, we reported on a GOP proposal in Missouri that would give doctors the right not to perform procedures that go against their moral beliefs -- such as abortions.
Meanwhile, a federal judge has struck down a Republican proposal with a similar theme that became law last year; this now overturned policy allowed employers to deny coverage of birth control if it violated their religious or moral beliefs. The only problem, opponents argued, was that the state law directly contradicted President Barack Obama's health-care law.
"We had to get clarification whether to follow state law or federal law," Brent Butler of the Missouri Insurance Coalition, one of the plaintiffs, tells Daily RFT.
What are the implications of this ruling?
See also: - Missouri Legislature Overturns Nixon's Veto on Anti-Contraception Bill - St. Louis Archdiocese Fight Against Contraception: Mandate Lawsuit Dismissed - Could GOP Bill Prevent Rape Victims From Accessing Emergency Contraception?
The local Planned Parenthood chapter is applauding the decision, which the groups says would ensure that women throughout the state would have access to birth control -- as Obama's health care plan mandates -- regardless of the religious beliefs of their local employers.
The decision from U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig, whose full version is on view below, focuses on the basic contradictions in federal and state law as the justification for overturning the policy:
Here, the federal law and regulations, with limited exceptions, provide that insurers must provide contraceptive coverage, without cost-sharing by an insured. The State law says that insurers cannot provide contraceptive coverage to any person or entity that objects to such coverage based on any moral, ethical, or religious objection. The Court is hard-pressed to see how this does not create a direct conflict for Missouri health insurers. The Court rejects Defendant's argument that the state law does not conflict with the federal law because the state law provides more coverage for contraceptives.
Butler says that the Missouri law created a real problem for insurance companies who would have to choose whether to violate state or federal law in cases where employers said that birth control coverage violated their moral or religious beliefs.
He points out that there are state and federal penalties for not following these respective coverage laws.
Continue for more details on the ruling and response from advocates.
Paula Gianino, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, offered this statement yesterday afternoon:
This is a victory for Missouri women and their families. This ruling ensures that all Missouri women -- no matter who their boss is -- have access to basic preventive health care without a co-pay, including birth control.
Butler says that Missouri has not had a dispute quite like this one before. "This is unique to Missouri as far as the state law being so contradictory to the federal law in that kind of detail." That's why it was necessary for the court to provide clarity, he says, pointing out that the Missouri Insurance Coalition, for which he is the government affairs director, did not have an opinion on the underlying policy debate around health care coverage for contraception.
The judge also makes clear in her ruling that the decision is based on the contradiction of state and federal law and not the health care debate, writing, "The Court takes no position on the merits of the conflicting laws."
The ruling is similar to a federal decision earlier this year to dismiss a lawsuit from the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Catholic Charities that directly challenged the federal government over the constitutionality of a health care contraception mandate.
It's not clear yet if this is the end of the legal battle around the state law. The Missouri attorney general could appeal the decision, but for now it seems the law will now be invalid.
In response to an inquiry from Daily RFT about the decision, a spokeswoman for the attorney general says only, "We are reviewing the ruling."
Continue for the full decision and for the full response from Planned Parenthood.
Here's the full decision.
And the full statement from Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri Praises Federal Ruling Striking Down Unconstitutional Missouri Anti-Birth Control Law
"This ruling ensures that all Missouri women -- no matter who their boss is - have access to basic preventive health care without a co-pay, including birth control."
St. Louis, Missouri--Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri released the following statement praising a federal court ruling that has struck down an unconstitutional Missouri law which would have allowed local employers to deny their employees access to affordable birth control as provided by the Affordable Care Act.
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. Paula Gianino, President/CEO, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri:
"This is a victory for Missouri women and their families. This ruling ensures that all Missouri women -- no matter who their boss is -- have access to basic preventive health care without a co-pay, including birth control."
Public polling finds overwhelming support for women's access to birth control. Seven in ten Americans (70 percent) believe that health insurance companies should be required to cover the full cost of birth control, just as they do for other preventive services, according to an October 2012 poll by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Approximately 940,000 Missouri women stand to benefit from the Affordable Care Act's preventive health care benefit, including access to no-copay birth control, which went into effect in August of last year.
Each year, Planned Parenthood health centers in Missouri see nearly 80,000 individuals for medical and educational services, including birth control. Nationwide, Planned Parenthood provides birth control for 2.5 million patients.