Koster won't appeal birth control ruling

Missouri won’t appeal last month’s federal court ruling that blocked enforcement of the 2012 state law, Attorney General Chris Koster said Thursday.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the law a year ago to defend Missourians’ right to a religious exemption from a federal regulation that all health insurance policies include coverage for abortion and birth control — then enacted it last September over Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto.

However, in an 8-page motion to “alter or amend the judgment,” Koster asked U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig to rewrite her ruling’s application to religious employers, such as the Archdiocese of St. Louis, explicitly exempted by the Obama administration from the contraceptive mandate.

“The Court’s ruling would subject Missouri’s religious employers to an insurance mandate that is not required by federal law,” Koster’s motion stated.

Today was the deadline to appeal Fleissig’s March 14 ruling that the state law was unconstitutional, because it countered provisions of federal law and Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution says federal laws take supremacy over conflicting state laws.

Tyler McClay, the Missouri Catholic Conference’s general counsel, said the MCC was “heartened by Koster’s decision to seek a clarification of Judge Fleissig’s ruling on behalf of churches.”

But overall, he said, the Catholic Conference “believes his decision represents a failure to exercise his constitutional duty to protect the conscience rights and religious liberties of all Missouri citizens — including religiously affiliated institutions like hospitals, universities and charity organizations, as well as those of Missouri business owners with moral, ethical, and religious objections to the (federal) contraceptive and abortion drug mandate.”

Sam Lee, lobbyist for the group Campaign Life Missouri, called Koster’s decision “shameful,” adding: “The Attorney General should not be playing politics with religious freedom.”

But Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri applauded Koster’s decision as “a step forward for Missouri women and families,” said president and CEO Peter Brownlie. “It affirms the importance of basic preventive health care and women’s access to birth control without obstacles.”

Brownlie cited public polling that shows 70 percent of Americans “believe that health insurance companies should be required to cover the full cost of birth control, just as they do for other preventive services.”

Like the state’s four Catholic bishops, House Speaker Tim Jones last month urged Koster to appeal. On Thursday, he said Koster’s “misguided opinion” failed to protect Missourians’ interest in “religious freedom and liberty.”

As he did last month, Jones rejected Fleissig’s ruling.

“The mistake she made was a misapplication of the federal law to the facts,” he said. “That mandate, that I believe is unlawful, unconstitutional ... is based on the regulations of the federal Health and Human Services department.

“They were not in the original statute,” so they’re not covered by the Supremacy Clause.

Jones noted federal courts in other states have ruled the other way, and Koster should have appealed so, eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court can make a definitive ruling all states would have to follow.

Koster wasn’t available for an interview, but said in a news release: “The Republicans’ attempt to deny contraceptive coverage to women in Missouri is just plain foolishness. The Republican effort ... cannot be supported by case law or sound public policy.”

Jones said failing to appeal the federal court ruling “was a very defining issue” in Koster’s announced plans to seek the governor’s office in 2016, when incumbent Jay Nixon can’t run for another term.

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