Restricting birth control under the guise of religious liberty
The Kansas City Star
On Wednesday the Missouri General Assembly will convene for its annual veto session. One of the issues before us will be whether to override Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of Senate Bill 749.
Senate Bill 749 purports to be legislation to protect the right of people, churches, health care providers and employers who do not want to pay for pay for contraception or abortions when to do so would be contrary to their religious or moral belief. The veto override decision is being characterized as a fight to protect religious liberties. This characterization is false.
Missouri law already prevents any employer, individual or self-insurer from having to pay for contraception when it is contrary to their religious or moral belief. Subsections 4 to 7 of Section 376.1199 RSMo provide an exception to the requirement to provide coverage for contraceptives. See section 376.1199, RSMo. Similarly, with regard to abortion, a person, health care provider, insurance provider or business having a religious or moral objection to abortion may not be forced to provide, pay for, or provide coverage for abortion. See section 376.805, RSMo. A health care provider’s right to refuse to provide abortion services is further protected by sections197.032, RSMo and 404.830, RSMo. All sections can be found online at moga.mo.gov/statutes. These statutes have been part of Missouri law for many years.
In short, the current law already completely protects any person, religious institution, health care provider or insurance provider who has a religious or moral objection from being forced to provide or pay for any contraceptive or abortion service, except to save the life of the mother.
The new law does not change or enhance any of these protections.
I am dismayed that there are political voices, including my own church, the Roman Catholic Church, that claim that SB 749 is somehow necessary to protect religious liberty. The Church knows or should know that it is false because the current law, irrespective of SB 749, protects a self-insurer from being forced to pay for contraception or abortion. The Church is a self-insurer and is currently operating under that section with the full protection that those laws provide.
I will be pleased to meet in open debate or discussion with any primary spokesperson for the Church to discuss this matter in public.
Many thousands of Missourians are being given information about SB 749 that is simply not true. The current law is clear and complete.
SB 749 adds nothing to the aforementioned protections now afforded to every Missouri person, church or health care provider.
There is no “religious liberty” issue. The entire campaign is simply a political exercise. SB 749 is a restatement of current law for political proposes and I am not willing to duplicate the law so that political operatives can force votes for political purposes.
The bill makes only one actual change to current law. The portion of Senate Bill 749 that Gov. Nixon was concerned about, and the basis for his veto, is the additional power given insurers to circumvent the will of employees and employers.
Under the bill, insurers are given the power to deny contraception coverage at the discretion of the employer, even when the employee wants it. Thus, the only real effect of SB 749 is to deny contraception to those who want it and are willing to pay for it. All the talk about religious liberty is simply a cover for an effort to further restrict birth control.
I appreciate sincere opposition to contraception or abortion. Sadly, many Missourians are being manipulated for political purposes. I will not be part of that. In fact, I have a moral objection to doing so. My moral and religious objection arises from Exodus 20:16, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Missouri State Rep. Chris Kelly, a Columbia Democrat, represents District 24. He is a lawyer.