Judge Strikes Down Missouri Law Exempting Religious Employers From Providing Contraception Coverage

Judge Audrey Fleissig; image @Boston.com

Judge Audrey Fleissig; image @Boston.com

The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Affordable Care Act are victorious once again in federal court. U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig struck down a 2012 Missouri law last Thursday that gave employers the power to deny contraception coverage in health insurance plans to female employees if they had religious objections.

According to The Washington Post, Fleissig’s ruling read as follows:

Missouri’s law “is in conflict with, and pre-empted by, existing federal law” and “could force health insurers to risk fines and penalties by choosing between compliance with state or federal law.”

The Missouri law was passed by the Republican-controlled state House and Senate in September 2012 in response to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act that requires all employers to provide female employees contraception coverage in their health insurance plans. Churches are exempt from the law, but insurance companies must offer contraceptive coverage at no cost to employees of religious non-profit organizations, hospitals, charities, etc. Missouri Democratic Governor Jay Nixon had vetoed the Missouri legislation but the legislature overrode the veto and enacted the law anyway, directly challenging the contraception coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in a 5-4 ruling last summer.

Judge Fleissig’s ruling is a victory for women in Missouri who want to make their own reproductive health decisions. Employers have no business deciding what kind of health coverage their female employees can receive. The ruling is also a win for women in the midst of the Republican war on contraception, and is the second court ruling against the GOP war on women to be handed down this month. An Idaho Judge recently struck down an anti-abortion law banning the procedure after 20 weeks.

Republicans in states across the nation, and at the federal level, have made an effort to prevent female employees from having easier and more affordable access to contraception. For example, Kansas Republicans passed a law last year allowing doctors and pharmacists to deny women contraception. On the flip side, the Democrat-led Hawaii Senate recently passed a bill requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims.

It remains unclear if Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster will appeal Fleissig’s ruling, but considering the cost of defending the unconstitutional law to Missouri taxpayers, and the fact that the Supreme Court has already ruled the Affordable Care Act constitutional, it may be a wiser decision to accept defeat and let this victory for Missouri women stand.