Judge Halts Missouri Law on Moral Objections to Birth Control

U.S. District Judge Audry Fleissig turned back a new Missouri law on Friday that requires insurers to exclude birth control coverage for moral objectors, saying that it runs contrary to a portion of the insurance mandate under the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act.

The judge wrote in her order that there "appears to be an irreconcilable conflict" between the state and federal laws that puts insurance companies in an awkward position. Specifically, she pointed out that if insurers were to comply with the Missouri law, that they would still face penalties for not complying with regulations concerning the contraceptive mandate provision.

Missouri's legislature passed the law three months ago, overriding a veto by Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon. It is unclear how long the restraining order will be in effect.

In what appeared to be the first state law in the nation passed as a result of Obama's controversial contraceptive mandate, the state law requires insurers to issue policies without contraception coverage if it runs contrary to the religious or moral beliefs of an individual or employer.

"Insurers are placed in an untenable position as they cannot comply with both statutes at the same time," Fleissig wrote, noting that the U.S. Constitution gives preference to federal laws over state laws.

State Sen. John Lamping, a Republican from suburban St. Louis who sponsored the law, said he was neither surprised nor discouraged by the court ruling.

"That's the logical thing that I thought would ultimately occur post-election," when Obama defeated Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, he said. "Clearly, this is an issue at the federal level that remains unresolved."

The legislator noted that federal courts have issued conflicting rulings on challenges to the Obama administration directive that contraception coverage be included as part of the basic preventative services required by the 2010 health care law.

He also noted that in the future if all or part of Obamacare is struck down by a higher court or overturned by Congress, then his bill would probably be upheld.

The Missouri Insurance Coalition, the group that lobbies on behalf of the insurance industry, filed the lawsuit that led to Fleissig's ruling.

The court ruling said the state insurance department already had issued a cease and desist order against at least one of the insurers in the coalition, alleging it was "engaging in fraud" by violating Missouri's contraception-exemption law.

The restraining order states that the state insurance department may approve policies with a contraception exemption but cannot reject insurance policies because they lack an exemption for moral and religious objectors.

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