By Tim Peacock
In December, the controversial contraceptive access legislation
that passed through the Missouri legislature was temporarily blocked by U.S. District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig. Fleissig granted a temporary restraining order, saying there “appears to be an irreconcilable conflict” between federal law and the new state law. In what will hopefully be the final chapter in Missouri women’s fight to retain contraceptive access, Judge Fleissig just ruled that the Missouri is unconstitutional due to the fact that it conflicts with existing federal legislation (Obamacare), and in cases where state and federal laws conflict, federal law supersedes state law (otherwise known as the ‘supremacy clause’ of the U.S. Constitution).
The law was originally passed and vetoed by Governor Nixon only to be overturned by a veto-proof legislative majority. It seems that Nixon’s words were ultimately the voice of reason in the debate where women’s health access rights were at stake. In his veto, he said, “”we want families making these decisions, not insurance companies.”
In her ruling, Fleissig wrote that the state law “is in conflict with, and pre-empted by, existing federal law” and “could force health insurers to risk fines and penalties by choosing between compliance with state or federal law.”
As expected, religious organizations that supported the law have their panties in a twist. According to the Post:
The anti-abortion group Campaign Life Missouri distributed an email Monday denouncing the ruling as “a radical departure from America’s tradition of religious freedom” and imploring people to contact Koster’s office in support of an appeal. Some backers of Missouri’s law said the court ruling could result in churches and other religious organizations having to accept insurance policies that include contraception coverage.
It still escapes me why these organizations think they can pick and choose the coverage that only affects their employees. The health insurance is partially paid for and wholly used by employees – not those that organize the coverage for their employees. Using the veil of religious liberty, employers feel they have the right to invade their employees’ personal lives and dictate what they can and cannot use their health insurance for. Were this any other religion and any other religiously-objectionable coverage, it wouldn’t be a question we’d be debating. For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses regard blood transfusions as being against their religious values. Should we also respect their beliefs and allow them to exclude that from their employees’ coverage. Other religions require their followers to shun medical treatment completely – should we allow them to pass that on to their employees and deny them basic insurance coverage as well?
By respecting the religious tenets of one religion over others, we wouldn’t just be violating the rights of an entire set of people that don’t share those beliefs; we’d be respecting the establishment of one religion over another through codification of one religion’s preferences – a direct violation of the Establishment Clause contained in the First Amendment.
Offering comprehensive health insurance to employees does not violate anyone’s religious freedoms – in fact, it retains those religious freedoms since an employer’s religious beliefs cannot be forced upon employees that may not share those same beliefs. Unless the government is at your door preventing you from attending the church of your choice, your right to religious worship is not being abridged.