MO legislature overrides veto of religious liberty bill

In a nail-biting finish, the Missouri legislature voted Sept. 12 to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a religious liberty bill.

SB 749 ensures that no one is forced to pay for abortion drugs and similar items in their health insurance when it violates their religious beliefs. The Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops, strongly supported the bill, adding that it "upholds religious liberty in a very practical way. Under this bill, no one can be forced to pay for surgical abortions, abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives or sterilizations when this violates their moral or religious beliefs."

During a special veto session Sept. 12, the Senate voted 26-6 to override the veto and the House voted 109-45. It takes 23 votes in the Senate for an override and 109 votes in the House.

Sen. John Lamping, R-Clayton, sponsored SB 749, which initially passed by supermajorities in both chambers. Twenty-eight out of 34 senators and 105 out of 163 state representatives voted for the bill. However Nixon announced during a July 12 press conference that he had vetoed the bill.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis released a statement on the veto override:

"Today, the Missouri General Assembly has overridden Governor Nixon's veto of Senate Bill 749. This is a victory for Catholics, people of all faiths, and more specifically, Missouri citizens who value religious liberty. SB 749 requires insurance companies to let people know up front whether a proposed policy includes coverage for abortions or contraceptives, and it allows those with an objection on moral grounds to have insurers exclude these items from employees' health plans. It does nothing to make contraceptives illegal, in fact, they are widely available and affordable. It does, however, assert conscience rights for Missouri citizens when those rights are in jeopardy due to the federal HHS mandate. Today's override is a powerful pro-life statement, one that gives us hope that conscience rights will be extended to all U.S. citizens. We thank the people of Missouri for your prayers and for your tireless efforts to protect our first, most-cherished freedom."

The Missouri law addresses a federal mandate that became effective Aug. 1 requiring all employers to provide coverage in their health care plans for contraception, sterilizations and abortion-producing drugs. The mandate has a limited religious exemption that would protect only Catholic institutions that seek to inculcate Catholic values and "primarily" employ and serve Catholics.

The Missouri Catholic Conference noted that federal law supercedes state law. However, federal courts may rule that this law is in violation of the U.S. Constitution. If this occurs, the new Missouri law will stand and be an explicit affirmation of protecting religious liberty.

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