JEFFERSON CITY - A House committee passed a measure Tuesday that asks the Missouri Attorney General to allow businesses to refuse to provide health insurance coverage for birth control and abortions to their employees in violation of the new federal health law.
In a 9-3 vote, the House Rules Committee passed a measure that would request the Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to seek to overturn a previous U.S. Court District decision so institutions can refuse to pay for health coverage items such as birth control if it goes against their religious beliefs.
The measure now moves to the full House floor. Koster has until Friday to appeal Fleissig's decision if the measure is passed out of the General Assembly. House Speaker Tim Jones said the fast-approaching deadline makes the measure very time-sensitive.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed similar legislation last year but the General Assembly overrode the governor's veto. U.S. Court District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig put a temporary restriction on the bill on March 18 and declared it unconstitutional.
The attorney general's office didn't respond to a request for comment on the measure Tuesday.
Jones, who is sponsoring the measure, said the measure would give religious institutions the right to refuse to include the birth control mandates of the federal health law in their insurance coverage.
"In it's essence, it provides protections for various institutions, religious and non-religious, but mainly focusing on religious institutions," Jones said, referring to the federal health law.
Rep. Steve Webb, D-St. Louis County, said people claim birth control mandates restricts institutions' religious rights but that those same people are actually restricting the rights of others by not including birth control in their employees' insurance coverage.
"Contraceptions and things of that nature is a personal decision," Webb said. He said he understands both sides of the argument but said the measure limits women's rights and sets a bad example for the future.
Susan Klein with Missouri Right to Life, a pro-life organization, said Missouri citizens shouldn't be forced to do something that is against their religious beliefs.
"We want the attorney general to defend the religious liberties of the citizens of the state of Missouri," Klein said. She also said that her organization along with other citizens would continue to fight for legislation that protects religious freedoms.
Shawn D'Abreu of St. Louis said sometimes people misunderstand what the term "religious freedom" actually means. He also said America is based on Protestant values and the current measure limits people's right to their own conscience.
"It establishes institutions and their understanding of what freedom of religion should be at the expense of individual conscience," D'Abreu said.
Webb said he thinks the measure will pass in the House but he said he hopes the attorney general won't accept the request.
"I hope the attorney general stands up for women," Webb said. "I would hope that he ignores the resolution from the House."