When President Obama announced earlier this year that religious employers are required to cover contraception in their insurance plans it set off a firestorm of criticism by the Republican Party and the Catholic Church. Obama then revised the policy to alleviate the tension, requiring that insurance companies, not religious employers, must provide contraception coverage free of charge. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans across the country from pushing bills to allow employers to deny their female workers contraception. On Friday, Missouri became the latest state to get such a bill through the legislature.
On the last day of the legislative session, Missouri lawmakers passed a measure stating that employers and health plan providers do not have to cover contraception or abortion in health plans if such health services violate their religious convictions. The state Attorney General is also given the authority to sue any government official or agency that overrules the state law. The legislation, which is modeled after the failed Blunt Amendment in the US Senate, passed the state Senate 28-6 and the House 105-33.
It is unclear if Governor Jay Nixon will sign the bill or not since he has not indicated a position one way or the other. But this bill could be more restrictive than even the Arizona version of the bill, which still requires employers to cover contraception that is used for other medical purposes besides to prevent or end pregnancy. The Arizona version also only applies to religious employers such as church affiliated institutions, although there is a loophole around that. The Missouri version does not appear to have the same language, it just allows employers in general to deny women coverage on all contraceptives, no matter what they are being used for.
This bill will especially affect women with low incomes, who will now have to pay for their own contraception out of their own pockets, buy a separate health insurance plan, or go without it. This bill was spearheaded by Republicans who have a clear anti-abortion and anti-contraception agenda, which has been the major part of the GOP war on women. Proponents of the bill say it’s all about protecting religious freedom, but opponents of the bill say otherwise.
According to Democratic State Rep. Stacey Newman, the legislation is about “attacking women’s reproductive choices,” declaring that the legislation “is wrong and I dare you to go home and talk to your daughters … and say, `Look, what we’re going to say is that your employers’ religious beliefs matter more than your own.’”
And Newman is absolutely correct. The legislation is about giving employers the power to restrict what a female employee can decide about her own reproductive health. The bill is just a step away from eventually allowing employers to interrogate female employees about whether or not they are using contraception and then firing them for it. This bill is a threat to the personal liberty and privacy that women have worked so long and hard to gain for themselves, and Missourians should be ashamed of their state legislature for supporting it.