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Mo. Catholic bishops want birth control appeal

Mo. Catholic bishops want birth control appeal

March 21st, 2013 in News

Attorney General Chris Koster has until April 12 to appeal last week's U.S. District Court ruling that a state law is unconstitutional.

The law, passed last September over Gov. Jay Nixon's veto, was written to defend Missourians' right to a religious exemption from a federal requirement that all health insurance policies include coverage for abortion and birth control.

But the Rev. John Gaydos, bishop of the Jefferson City Diocese, and Missouri's three other Catholic bishops on Thursday added their voices to the call for Koster to appeal the case.

"We, the bishops of Missouri, wish to express our dismay with Federal District Judge Audrey Fleissig's March 14 ruling striking down the conscience protections in Missouri's insurance law," the bishops wrote in a two-page statement issued by the Missouri Catholic Conference.

"No one should be forced to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, when to do so would violate their religious convictions."

The bishops' statement came one day after House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, also encouraged Koster to appeal the ruling.

"I trust that you will argue on appeal that the federal contraception mandate violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as the First Amendment right to freedom of religion," Jones told Koster, in a two-page letter.

Koster spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said Thursday the attorney general and his staff "are reviewing the ruling."

Opponents challenged the law, leading to Fleissig's ruling March 14 that the state law was unconstitutional because it countered provisions of federal law.

Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution says federal laws take supremacy over conflicting state laws.

Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, told The Associated Press Fleissig's ruling ensured "that all Missouri women - no matter who their boss is - have access to basic preventive health care without a co-pay, including birth control."

But supporters of the state law argue Fleissig's ruling is too broad, because the mandate is not a law.

"Basically, we're talking about a separate provision that has been inserted into "Obamacare' by the Department of Health and Human Services, as part of their rule-making authority," Jones, who is an attorney, explained Thursday. "This contraception mandate was not at-issue in the U.S. Supreme Court" last summer.

Mike Hoey, Catholic Conference executive director, also noted the Missouri case was one of numerous challenges to the federal Health and Human Services mandate.

"In fact, 13 different for-profit employers throughout the U.S. have obtained injunctive relief from federal courts, from the HHS mandate," Hoey said Thursday. "A final ruling on the merits of the ... mandate has not been issued yet."

The bishops' letter said they wished Fleissig had waited for other court rulings.

Since she didn't, they said, Koster should appeal "with all due haste."

First coverage, posted at 1:29 p.m. Thursday:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri's Catholic bishops have joined the chorus urging the appeal of a federal court ruling striking down the state's contraception insurance exemption for people with religious or moral objections.

The state's bishops are asking Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster to appeal with "all due haste." They said Thursday that people should not be forced to pay for contraception if it violates their religious beliefs.

Last year, the Republican-led Legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto to enact the exemption. It allows individuals, employers and insurers to cite religious or moral exemptions from mandatory insurance coverage for abortion, contraception and sterilization.

A U.S. District Court judge said the exemption ran contrary to President Barack Obama's health care law.

Republican Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones asked Koster to appeal the decision Wednesday.