JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed legislation Thursday that would have banned mandatory insurance coverage of birth control for anyone with religious or moral objections, asserting the bill could have also allowed insurers to deny contraception to women who want it.
Nixon's veto came after two months of intense public lobbying during which his office received more than 10,000 messages urging him to either sign or veto the legislation that sought to inject Missouri into a national debate about birth control.
The bill passed by the Republican-led legislature was intended as a rebuff of a policy by Democratic President Barack Obama's administration that requires insurers to cover birth control at no additional cost to women, including those working at religiously affiliated nonprofits such as hospitals, colleges or charities.
But Nixon, a Democrat, said the legislation was unnecessary and could perhaps even diminish people's liberties.
Under the bill, "an insurance company would be allowed to impose its will, and deny inclusion of contraceptive coverage, even if that position is inconsistent with the rights and beliefs of the employee or employer," Nixon said in a written statement explaining his veto.
A 2001 Missouri law states that birth control prescriptions shall be covered under policies that include pharmaceutical benefits at the same co-payment or deductible rates as other medications. That law also allows insurers to offer policies without contraception coverage to people or employers who say it violates their moral or religious beliefs. And the 2001 law ensures that people can purchase a plan with contraception coverage if their employer's plan does not offer it.
The 2012 legislation stated that no person, employer or insurer can be compelled to obtain insurance coverage — or be penalized for refusing to get coverage — for abortion, contraception or sterilization if those services run contrary to their religious or moral convictions. Nixon said that by expanding the religious and moral exemption to insurers, the legislation essentially cancels the 2001 law requiring them to offer policies with contraception coverage.
"Such an effort would signal a retreat from the liberties enjoyed by employers and employees under current law," Nixon said in his written statement.
The legislation also would have given the state attorney general — or other individuals and entities — grounds to file lawsuits claiming an infringement of rights if people, employers or insurers were compelled to cover contraception.