JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Catholic Conference has expressed dismay that a federal judge has struck down a state law passed last year that protects employer’s conscience rights when providing health insurance.
“The order is a significant overreach and goes beyond even what the party suing asked for,” Tyler McClay, communications director for the Missouri Catholic Conference, told EWTN News March 19.
On March 14, U.S. district Judge Audrey Fleissig overturned a state law which requires insurance companies to inform health-care consumers whether a policy includes coverage for abortions or contraceptives, and it allows those with an objection on moral grounds to have insurers exclude these items from employees’ health plans.
The law helps health-insurance consumers make informed decisions and protects the consciences and religious liberty of employers.
The decision to strike down the law was made because it conflicts with the federal Affordable Care Act, which the judge said pre-empts state laws. She said the legislation put insurance providers in an impossible position of complying with either federal or state law.
Fleissig’s order “attacks the conscience rights and religious liberty of all Missouri citizens,” said a statement by the Missouri Catholic Conference.
“No one should be forced to pay for contraceptives, abortion drugs or sterilization procedures in their health plans.”
The conference noted that her decision “effectively amended Missouri law ... requiring churches and houses of worship to provide the offending coverage to their employees,” going beyond the exemption offered by the Obama administration itself.
The statement said that numerous federal judges, including the Eighth Circuit Appeals Court, which hears appeals from the Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, “have granted injunctive relief to several Missouri for-profit employers that have sued, claiming that the HHS contraceptive mandate violates their religious liberty.”
Fleissig’s decision noted these cases, but claimed they are “irrelevant” to her decision.
The law in question was adopted in September, after the state Legislature overrode its veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. Both the Missouri Senate and House gave bipartisan support for the law.
When it was adopted, the Missouri Catholic Conference anticipated a legal battle over it and told EWTN News that, while the law “may conflict with the HHS mandate ... it conforms to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
In its statement, the conference urged the state attorney general, Chris Koster, to “appeal this overreaching decision and stand up for the religious liberties of all Missouri citizens.”