(Updates with reaction, lawsuit by St. Louis businessman)
By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Mo., July 12 Missouri's Democratic
Governor Jay Nixon on Thursday vetoed a bill that could have
resulted in women being denied insurance coverage for
contraception, in the latest battle over Catholic Church
objections to providing birth control coverage as part of the
new health care law.
Republican lawmakers in Missouri drafted the law in response
to President Barack Obama's policy of requiring insurers to
cover birth control for free as part of the new federal health
care law, even if they work for a church or other employer that
has a moral objection.
Catholic bishops, backed by many Republicans, have
campaigned against the requirement, saying it is an unfair
government intrusion on religious freedom. The Catholic Church's
formal position is to oppose contraception, although most
Catholic women do not follow church doctrine.
The conservative American Center for Law and Justice has
filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a St. Louis business owner
who protests that the Obama administration rule violates his
religious beliefs. Frank O'Brien, a devout Catholic who owns an
industrial holdings company that processes ceramics, wants to
deny his employees birth control coverage but says that the
federal regulation prevents him from following his conscience.
The National Council of State Legislatures, which tracks
state law changes, said it was not aware of any other state
attempting to pass a law like the one vetoed in Missouri.
In vetoing the bill, Nixon noted that state law already
allows employers or workers to opt out of contraceptive coverage
based on moral or religious beliefs. But the proposed law would
have enabled insurance companies to deny coverage even if the
employer and employee wanted it, Nixon said.
"By doing so, the bill would shift authority to make
decisions about access to contraceptive coverage away from
Missouri women, families and employers - and put that power in
the hands of insurance companies," Nixon said.
He said this would set a dangerous precedent for the future.
The Republican-dominated Missouri House and Senate could try
to override Nixon's veto in September when the Missouri
lawmakers hold their veto session. The bill passed
overwhelmingly in the legislature.
Nixon's decision won immediate praise from Peter Brownlie,
president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri,
which supports the right to abortion.
"We're pleased that he took a courageous stand," Brownlie
said. "He knows and everyone knows there will be a strong effort
in the House and Senate to override the veto."
Nixon's likely Republican opponent in the fall election,
Dave Spence, criticized Nixon on his campaign website Thursday.
"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," Spence said.
The Missouri Catholic Conference on Thursday urged people of
faith to contact legislators to urge them to overturn the
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Simon in Denver; Editing by
Greg McCune, Todd Eastham and Lisa Shumaker)