The fight over mandatory birth control coverage in Missouri -- as outlined by federal health care law -- is heating up once again, with renewed pressure this week from from Republican lawmakers as well as Our Lady's Inn, a St. Louis nonprofit that opposes contraception requirements.
The individual facing the most pressure is Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, who just so happens to be preparing a run for Missouri governor. It's up to Koster to decide whether to appeal a federal ruling last month that overturned a controversial Missouri law exempting employers from providing birth control coverage if it violated their religious beliefs.
"The attorney general...has a duty to defend the laws of the state of Missouri," says Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of Thomas More Society, which is making efforts to intervene in the legal battle. "These people are elected to do a job and they ought to do it."
One thing seems clear: Despite the federal ruling that the Missouri law in question is unconstitutional, this fight is far from over.
As a quick recap, Missouri legislators, despite the veto of Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, last year passed a law that says Missouri employers can deny coverage of birth control if it violates their beliefs.
The only problem is that law directly contradicts Obama's health care plan -- and the judge last month, in a ruling overturning the state law, said that it's unconstitutional for Missouri to have a law that goes against federal law.
This week, more groups and politicians are encouraging Koster to appeal. Catholic officials locally have slammed the ruling as an offense to religious liberty and the Republican leadership of the legislature continues to demand a renewed fight. And a House committee has just advanced a measure that directly requests Koster seek to reinstate the law.
What's Koster's response?
It seems, for now, he's avoiding making a final decision on an appeal.
Asked about it this week, Koster's spokeswoman sends Daily RFT this statement (which is the same one given out two weeks prior):
The federal court's ruling of March 14 invalidating portions of SB 749 also appears to have created uncertainties related to section 376.1199 and its impact on insurance carriers and individuals. Our next step is to request clarification from the court regarding the intended scope of the ruling.
In other words, his office seems to be seeking additional information from the court before it pushes forward with a formal appeal -- or decides against it.
In the meantime, attorneys with Our Lady's Inn are preparing their own legal intervention -- in case Koster doesn't appeal.
Continue for details on Our Lady's Inn latest legal efforts in this case.
Concerned that the state of Missouri is going to drop this case, the Thomas More Society, which has retained counsel of St. Louis attorney Timothy Belz, has filed a motion on behalf of Our Lady's Inn, a Missouri nonprofit that provides services for pregnant women.
The organization would like to opt out of mandatory contraception coverage and would have relied on the now overturned law.
The new motion, filed on Friday and on view below, is an effort to intervene as a defendant and appeal the decision directly.
"If the attorney general is not going to defend the law and appeal, Our Lady's Inn is prepared to do so," Brejcha tells Daily RFT.
Citing lawmakers' success at overturning Nixon's veto, he says, "The legislature...believes people should have the right to buy the kind of insurance they want to."
Supporters of the now rejected law argue that it's a matter of First Amendment rights.
If Our Lady's Inn must take up the fight, Brejcha says he expects they will be successful.
"We are very confident," he says.
Here's the full motion.
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