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Missouri attorney general won't appeal birth control ruling

Thursday, April 11, 2013 | 6:00 p.m. CDT; updated 8:33 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 11, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY — Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster said Thursday that he won't appeal a federal ruling striking down a Missouri law that exempted moral objectors from a birth control insurance mandate, calling the Republican-backed effort "just plain foolishness."

Koster, however, did ask a federal judge to revise the ruling so that religious institutions in Missouri can receive the same exceptions from contraception coverage that currently are provided under federal law.

At issue is a law enacted last year when Missouri's Republican-led Legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. The new law required insurers to issue policies without contraception coverage if individuals or employers assert that the use of birth control violates their "moral, ethical or religious beliefs." The Missouri measure appeared to be the first in the nation to directly rebut a policy of President Barack Obama's administration that requires insurers to cover contraception at no additional cost to women.

U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig struck down the Missouri law last month while citing a provision in the U.S. Constitution declaring that federal laws take precedence over contradictory state laws.

Republican lawmakers and various groups that describe themselves as "pro-life" had urged Koster to appeal the ruling. Despite his decision not to do so, an appeal still may be possible if Fleissig grants a pending request from a St. Louis area nonprofit to intervene in the case for the purpose of an appeal.

Koster said in a written statement Thursday that an effort to exempt birth control from employer-sponsored health care plans "cannot be supported by case law or sound public policy."

"The Republicans' attempt to deny contraceptive coverage to women in Missouri is just plain foolishness," Koster said.

But in a filing Thursday in federal court, Koster's office asserted that Fleissig's ruling also has problems. Because the judge struck down parts of a previously existing law along with sections of the new law, the "unintended consequence" could prohibit insurers from providing policies without contraceptive coverage to religious institutions such as the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Koster's court brief said.

"That left an unintended Missouri law that is inconsistent and more burdensome than federal law," Koster's office said in a filing signed by Deputy Solicitor General Jeremiah Morgan.

The attorney general's office suggested that Fleissig should amend her ruling to make it clear that federal exemptions from contraception coverage for religious employers also would apply in Missouri.

House Speaker Tim Jones, who had urged the attorney general to appeal, called Koster's decision not to do so a "misguided opinion."

"I would say that is a very defining issue for AG Koster as he seeks to attain additional support from the people of Missouri over the next few years," Jones said while alluding to Koster's political ambitions.

Earlier this week, Koster said he was making preparations to run for governor in 2016.


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