This is going to shock those who view today's divisive political environment as the way things have always been, but in 2001, the last time the Missouri legislature had a serious discussion about women's access to contraception, Planned Parenthood and the Missouri Catholic Conference were on the same side.
Planned Parenthood wanted to increase access to women's health care. The Missouri Catholic Conference and other anti-abortion groups wanted to provide exemptions for abortifacients, forms of contraception that could induce abortion. They also wanted to give individuals and religious organizations a conscience exemption.
The two sides compromised.
"I think everybody gave a little," said then-Planned Parenthood lobbyist Mike Ausmus.
Then-Senate president pro tem Peter Kinder, a Republican who now is the state's lieutenant governor, backed the bill. So did then-Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat.
That Missouri law, which mirrors the national compromise President Barack Obama has been trying to reach with Catholic groups over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, is still on the books.
Its existence, and its clarity, are the reasons Gov. Jay Nixon should veto Senate Bill 749, a poorly considered, politically contrived rehash of a decades-old debate.
Opponents of the bill, which would allow Missouri employers to deny contraceptive coverage in their health insurance policies, say that it is part of the Republican Party's "war on women." Proponents say it's a necessary defense against the president's "war on religious freedom."
The bill is neither of those things.
Instead, it's a symbol of our broken political system — a system in which, rather than working together to find compromise, opposing ideologues are intent on destroying their opponents.
As the 2001 debate showed, compromise is possible. And it's necessary. This national contraception debate should be about the balancing act that must take place when one right clashes with another.
It's worth noting that Missouri's 2001 law focused primarily on individual rights. Women who had a conscientious objection to having an insurance policy that covered contraception were granted the right to ask their insurance providers for a policy that didn't violate their personal morals.
Senate Bill 749, sponsored by Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, turns the freedom debate on its side. It asks the government to do the bidding of the Catholic Church, rather than protecting the rights of the individual woman, regardless of her religious beliefs.
As we have noted, Mr. Obama erred in announcing the new federal contraception coverage rules before the religious exemptions — a necessary balancing act — were fully defined. Republicans and some elements of the religious community responded by overreacting and relitigating rights long ago fought for and won by women.
Had Congress done a decade ago what Missouri did, this issue wouldn't have become a partisan wedge in a political climate in which compromise no longer is possible. But, in earlier times, Missouri did reach careful compromise on the issue of contraception, a compromise that was fine by the Catholic Church then and should be now.
If Mr. Obama's contraception proposal — with proper religious exemptions — becomes federal law, then Missouri's law is moot because of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. If courts rule against the president, then Missouri's existing contraception exemptions stand.
Either way, Senate Bill 749 is unnecessary and does more harm than good.
Mr. Nixon should veto it.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact news editor Laura Johnston.