JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri senators passed legislation Friday stating that employers can refuse to provide health insurance for contraception, sterilization or abortion — a measure intended to register their discontent with a contentious new policy by President Barack Obama's administration.
The Senate's 28-6 vote sends the bill to the House for final approval on the last day of the annual legislative session. Lawmakers face a constitutional deadline of 6 p.m. Friday to wrap up their work for the 2012 session.
The legislation is a response to a policy by Obama's administration that initially sought to require religious nonprofits serving the public, such as hospitals and colleges, to cover birth control through employee health plans. After a backlash, Obama modified that policy earlier this year to require insurers — not the religious employers — to bear the responsibility of covering contraception.
But that change did little to relieve the concerns of some religious groups and Missouri lawmakers.
The Missouri bill states that no employer or health plan provider can be compelled to provide coverage — or be penalized for refusing to cover — abortion, contraception or sterilization if those items run contrary to their religious or moral convictions. The bill also gives the state attorney general grounds to sue other governmental officials or entities that infringe on the rights granted in the legislation.
Sponsoring Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, said the legislation isn't intended to limit anyone's access to birth control, "it's just a question of who pays for these services."
Opponents of the legislation, such as Sen. Jolie Justus, opted not to block it from coming to a vote in the Senate. Justus, D-Kansas City, said the bill represented a compromise that stopped short of what some religious and anti-abortion groups wanted but also made some insurers uncomfortable.
"At best, this is just a re-statement of existing law and unnecessary at this time," Justus said. "At worst, I'm a little bit concerned that it might do some things that are unintended."