ST. LOUIS (CNS) — Two months to the day after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a religious liberty bill, both houses of the Missouri Legislature voted by wide margins to override the veto.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis called the veto override “a victory for Catholics, people of all faiths, and more specifically, Missouri citizens who value religious liberty.”
The legislation, SB 749, ensures that no one is forced to pay for abortion drugs and similar items in their health insurance when it violates their religious beliefs.
The Missouri Catholic Conference, public policy arm of the state’s bishops, strongly supported the bill, saying that it “upholds religious liberty in a very practical way. Under this bill, no one can be forced to pay for surgical abortions, abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives or sterilizations when this violates their moral or religious beliefs.”
During a special veto session Sept. 12, the Senate voted 26-6 to override the veto and the House voted 109-45. Twenty-eight out of 34 senators and 105 out of 163 state representatives originally had voted for the bill.
Nixon announced at a July 12 news conference that he had vetoed the bill, sponsored by Sen. John Lamping, R-Clayton. He said in his veto message that Missouri law already protected employers and individuals who had ethical or religious objections to contraceptive coverage, but he objected to the bill’s extension of those protections to insurance companies.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis said in a statement that the legislation “does nothing to make contraceptives illegal; in fact, they are widely available and affordable. It does, however, assert conscience rights for Missouri citizens when those rights are in jeopardy due to the federal HHS mandate.”
“Today’s override is a powerful pro-life statement, one that gives us hope that conscience rights will be extended to all U.S. citizens,” the statement added. “We thank the people of Missouri for your prayers and for your tireless efforts to protect our first, most cherished freedom.”
(See coverage including a video on the website of the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the St. Louis Archdiocese.)
The Missouri law addresses a federal mandate that became effective Aug. 1 requiring all employers to provide coverage in their health care plans for contraceptives, including some that can cause abortions, and sterilizations. The mandate has a limited religious exemption that would protect only Catholic institutions that seek to inculcate Catholic values and primarily employ and serve Catholics.
The Missouri Catholic Conference noted that federal law supersedes state law. However, federal courts may rule that the mandate is in violation of the U.S. Constitution. If this occurs, the new Missouri law will stand.