Missouri Senate debates contraception bill

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BY TIM SAMPSON
Missouri News Horizon

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Democrats took the floor of the state Senate Tuesday to halt passage of a bill aimed at giving employers and employees the ability to opt out of paying health insurance coverage for certain medical practices they find objectionable.

The legislation, Senate Bill 749, was rushed through a Senate hearing last week and comes in response to the recent outcry over a mandate from the Obama administration that requires employers or insurance companies to provide contraception coverage for employees under the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act. The state bill is a rebuke of the White House’s position, and would prevent Missouri employers from having to provide any contraceptive, abortion or sterilization services if they deem the practices morally objectionable.

Event though the Obama Administration has since compromised on this issue, offering religious employers the opportunity to pass the cost of birth control onto insurance companies, the Missouri version of the bill was taken up on the Senate floor Tuesday.

“This bill is about religious liberty and protecting the freedom of religion,” said Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, who sponsors the legislation.

But many who spoke out against the bill don’t see it that way. Many raised concerns about the kind of havoc such a bill could wreak on insurance plans in Missouri if all employees and employers are giving the ability to opt out of paying for certain cervices.

Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis, also took issue with the lack of a definition for “sterilization,” and question whether or not this legislation could be used to deny medically necessary procedures like hysterectomies, which cause sterility as a byproduct.

“I think you’re looking at a lot of unintended consequences from this bill,” Green said.

One of the most vocal critics of the legislation though questioned the very religious underpinnings that supporters have used to buoy their arguments. Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, said if the bill really is about religious liberty, then there would be exceptions for more than just reproductive rights issues. She noted that a number of religions have objections to medical procedures such as blood transfusions or organ transplants.

“This isn’t about religious freedom, it’s about the national political debate heading into the next presidential election,” Justus said.

After more than 90 minutes of debate, the bill failed to come to a vote on Tuesday. But Senate Republicans can bring the issue back up at any time.