Women’s Health Advocates Challenge Missouri Law Allowing Employers To Deny Access To Birth Control

Yesterday afternoon, the Republican-controlled Missouri legislature overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D-MO) veto of a bill that would allow employers to deny coverage for contraceptive services that violate their religious beliefs, ensuring that the legislation will immediately go into effect. Women’s health advocates are already pushing back on what they describe as an affront on the reproductive freedom of the state’s female residents.

Planned Parenthood’s national office, as well as the organization’s local affiliate, released statements condemning Missouri legislators for “treating women as second class citizens,” pointing out that the measure prevents women from being in control of their own preventative health care:

“Today, the Missouri legislature callously ignored the 700,000 Missouri women that use some form of birth control, and — by allowing SB749, the Birth Control Refusal bill to become law — put employers and insurers in charge of their birth control decision-making,” Planned Parenthood says in a press release.

“The Missouri legislature, beholden to lobbyists that see an abortion in every birth control pill, has done a huge disservice to all Missouri women,” says Peter Brownlie, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. “Birth control is not just basic, preventive health care for women, it is a pocketbook issue. Without this new birth control coverage benefit, many women will now have to continue paying $15 to $50 a month on top of their premium. When you live paycheck to paycheck, that’s a lot of money!”

And a Kansas City labor union filed suit against the law today, hoping to block it from going into effect in Missouri on the grounds that state law cannot trump the federal health care reform law, which includes a provision requiring employer-based insurance plans to cover contraceptive services free of charge. The union’s lawyer explained that ensuring access to affordable birth control is a labor issue:

“We are coming fast out of the gate on this to show that labor is going to put its foot down on attempts to divide workers and deny workers their right to heath care,” said Edward Keenan, a labor lawyer with Keenan Law Firm in Kansas City who is representing the union in the lawsuit. […]

“We consider this move to be just another right wing assault on workers — limiting our members’ options and choices,” Keenan said.

Missouri’s birth control measure — which passed the legislature in May and was vetoed by Nixon in June — is modeled on a federal law proposed by one of its senators, Roy Blunt (R-MO), that failed in the Senate. The Obamacare provision that this type of legislation intends to circumvent went into effect on August 1.