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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Boy's club overrides veto, punishes Missouri women

Friday, September 14, 2012 | 4:00 p.m. CDT; updated 3:16 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Consistent in their disdain for women's rights, Missouri legislators on Wednesday again decided that a narrow view of religious freedom was more important than women's health.

The vote to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill allowing employers to exclude contraceptive coverage from health insurance policies was trumpeted by lawmakers as a move to protect religious rights. That is a trumped-up issue, since state law has allowed employers to opt out of such coverage since 2001.

In addition, the federal mandate regarding contraception insurance specifically allows religious institutions to opt out of the coverage, although it requires insurance companies for religiously affiliated institutions — such as universities and hospitals — to offer birth control coverage.

Notice that the law orders the coverage to be offered — it does not have to be accepted. Women are not being forced to take the birth control. It is just being offered to them and paid for through their employee health plans, for which the women are already paying a share.

The Legislature is a boys' club. Of the 163 House seats, two are vacant and 120 are filled by men. In the Senate, 28 of the 34 members are men. In overriding Mr. Nixon's veto, the lawmakers set up a situation that already has resulted in one lawsuit and is sure to encourage more.

Mr. Nixon had said the bill shifted too much power to insurance companies and pointed out that state law already allows employers and employees to opt out of policies that conflict with their religious or moral convictions.

The Missouri law was put on the books in 2001, and was supported by both Planned Parenthood and the Missouri Catholic Conference at a time when increasing women's access to health care and supporting religious freedom could be seen as synonymous issues.

The political chasm that has opened up since is part of the problem. Missouri's lawmakers on both sides of the aisle united with pro-choice and pro-life groups to get that law passed 11 years ago. Peter Kinder, the Republican lieutenant governor who was then the Senate president pro-tem, allied himself with then-Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, to get the bill through.

Now, instead of listening to constituents and reaching accord between parties, Missouri lawmakers take their cues from Republican strategists who are using women's bodies as cannon fodder in their efforts to win elections.

Consider that about the same time Wednesday that Missouri legislators were overriding Mr. Nixon's veto, Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts retailer, filed a court challenge against the federal health care reform law's mandate to provide abortifacients, forms of contraception that can induce abortion.

Hobby Lobby's founders are evangelical Christians. No doubt their beliefs are sincere but may not be shared by their employees. There is also no doubt that the timing of their lawsuit is political.

The GOP long ago figured out that if you get people worked up over the easy stuff — like who has an American flag pin in his lapel, or where someone's parents were born, or who loves whom — they won't have time to notice if their pockets are being picked and their safety nets sliced.

It's time to put an end to the ugly partisan divisiveness and to unite for the good of the people of Missouri. And that includes the state's 2.8 million women.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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