Contraception debate moves to the Missouri House

Apr 25, 2012

Debate continues in the Missouri legislature over the Obama administration's "contraception mandate," which will require health insurance to include coverage for birth control. In this week's Health & Wealth update, a House committee hears testimony on a largely symbolic bill, opposing the mandate.

The mandate to cover contraception, announced in January, ignited the furor of Catholic bishops, including John Gaydos, the bishop of the Jefferson City diocese.

"To put it simply, no person should be forced to pay for abortion drugs or other items that violate their moral and religious convictions," Gaydos said, testifying before  a Missouri House committee on Tuesday. 

Last month, the Missouri Senate passed a bill stating that no employer in Missouri can be required to cover contraception if it goes against religious beliefs.

"Federal law will ultimately trump this law," admits the bill's sponsor, Republican John Lamping of St. Louis County. "But it's really all Missouri can do."

Yesterday, Lamping presented his bill to the Missouri House health insurance committee, where he was grilled by the Democrats in the room, including Representative Mary Still, of Columbia. She cited a study that found 98 percent of sexually active women have used birth control at some point. Denying them access, said Still, would discriminate against women.

"Most women want to have access to birth control, because it is an opportunity for them to really control their economic future," she said.

Lamping responded, "This has nothing to do with access to those services. This has to do with the right of an employer to offer a benefit that he or she chooses to offer."

The Obama administration rule is part of the health reform law, which requires coverage of preventive care with no co-pay. President Obama said he took the advice of the Institute of Medicine, which recommended contraception should be included as preventive.

But religious organizations that are opposed to contraception don't want to pay for health insurance that covers it. Peggy Forrest runs a religious charity in St. Louis, and she told lawmakers yesterday that her group had to fight with her insurance carrier to get coverage that did not include contraception.

"To say it has been challenging is an understatement," she said. "Our board of directors, myself, the other leadership, believe that providing health care insurance coverage to our 16 full-time employees is a moral responsibility that we hold. But we want to provide that coverage in a way that does not force us to violate our moral and ethical beliefs."

Republican Representative Chris Molendorp, from Cass County, chairs the House health insurance committee. "I don't want to infringe anyone's right, or their ability to exercise their right," said. Molendorp. "I also don't want to pass a law that's going to create years and years of litigation. There's got to be a balance here."

Molendorp worried this bill could put insurance companies between a "rock and a hard place:"

"Shall we violate state law or shall we violate federal law?"

Public hearings on the bill will likely continue later this week.