Koster: Mo. won't appeal federal court ruling over contraception mandate

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Legal Newsline) -- Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said last week the state will not appeal a ruling guaranteeing contraception coverage for most Missourians.

On Thursday, Koster asked a federal court to amend its order striking down portions of Senate Bill 749 to maintain the right of religious employers to exclude contraception coverage if they are also exempt under federal law and to allow Missouri insurance carriers to provide such coverage to religious employers.

Additionally, the attorney general said he would not appeal the court's ruling that other employers in Missouri must provide contraceptive coverage as part of their employer-provided health care plans.

SB 749, which was introduced last year, gives any "employer, health plan provider, health plan sponsor, health care provider, or any other person or entity" the ability to refuse to provide coverage for contraception, abortion or sterilization.

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, but both houses of the state legislature voted to override him.

The federal case was brought by insurance carriers caught between the federal health care law, which requires the inclusion of contraceptive coverage in federally regulated health care plans, and the state law, which exempts insurance carriers, businesses and individuals claiming a moral, ethical or religious objection to contraception.

The federal mandate, which was imposed under the Patient Care and Affordable Care Act, signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, requires employers to offer contraception coverage or they may be fined.

Last month, Judge Audrey Fleissig of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri found the state law conflicted with the federal mandate.

Fleissig ruled that under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, federal law preempts conflicting state law.

"The Republicans' attempt to deny contraceptive coverage to women in Missouri is just plain foolishness," said Koster, a Republican-turned-Democrat.

"The Republican effort to deny contraceptive coverage cannot be supported by case law or sound public policy."

While acknowledging the supremacy of federal law as it applies to the majority of Missouri employers, Koster also asked the court to clarify its ruling so that federal exemptions applicable to religious employers, such as the Archdiocese of St. Louis, remain in effect.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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