JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon chose a July 12 press conference at the State Capitol to announce his veto of Senate Bill 749, a religious liberty measure that was the top priority of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and other influential faith groups this year.
The bill would have strengthened protections for employers from being required to buy insurance for abortions, contraception or sterilizations for their employees if they object on religious grounds. In vetoing the bill Nixon reasoned that existing Missouri law does offer sufficient religious protection, but the bill allows insurance companies “to impose their will” and deny contraceptive coverage to women, which he said would be “a step backwards” for Missouri.
MBC Executive Director John Yeats said that an override of the governor’s veto in September would be appropriate.
“I’m incredibly disappointed with Gov. Nixon’s veto,” Yeats said. “The problem with his argument that existing laws give cover for religious liberty is that it is the current laws and regulations that run roughshod over people of convictional faith. While the current HHS (Health & Human Services) regulations exempt churches, we have important cooperative ministries that are impacted.”
MBC Legislative Liaison Kerry Messer was pleased to be contacted by Nixon’s chief of staff before the veto announcement, but he also found the details to be quite disturbing.
“The explanation just doesn’t work,” Messer said. “I have strained at the words, and it just does not ring well in that the governor’s justification is contradictory to current law and seemingly common sense. The pro-life Democrat caucus will determine the success or failure of the override. Will that group vote pro-life or with their party leadership?”
In his veto speech, Nixon tried to highlight his connection with Christians.
“As a person of faith, I cherish the freedom we all have to worship in accordance with our own beliefs,” Nixon said. “Our churches should be free from the encroachment of government and politics. For more than a decade, Missouri law has provided strong religious and moral protections to safeguard the beliefs of employees and employers regarding contraceptive coverage. Those protections apply whether the employer is a church or a religious organization, or not. These protections are strong, they are effective, and they have my support.”
“Under our existing law, employees and employers can already opt out of providing or receiving contraceptive coverage if doing so conflicts with their religious or moral convictions. At the same time, our existing law also acknowledges the rights of women and families who want to access contraception.
“Our existing law protects those religious liberties and it respects individual rights. The current law was passed overwhelmingly, it has been on the books for years, and it works. The additional provisions included in Senate Bill 749 such as the notice requirement for individual policies are worthwhile ideas that deserve continued discussion.”
Nixon stated during the press conference that an insurance company should not have the power to overrule the rights of women and families who want to access contraception. At the moment MBC leaders see three institutions at risk—Southwest Baptist University, Hannibal LaGrange University, and the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home, all due to provisions in the federal Affordable Care Act that require religious institutions to provide abortion coverage in their health care insurance plans to employees and the lack of a remedy as spelled out in SB 749.
“The argument of the insurance company’s power is bogus,” Yeats said. “We own GuideStone, the primary insurance carrier for the MBC and most Southern Baptist Convention institutions. GuideStone does their very best to reflect the biblical convictions held by Missouri Southern Baptists. Our insurance carrier, the carrier for several of our institutions, is not providing abortion services or abortion-inducing pharmaceuticals to comply with HHS regulations. Although they have their own private insurance company, Roman Catholic institutions are in the same situation.
“Senate Bill 749 would have stopped the ObamaCare overreach in Missouri. Because of Gov. Nixon’s veto we are stuck with some form of litigation as our solution. We had high hopes for a state legislative remedy so that the attorney general would be obliged to defend our position in the federal courts.”
When pressed by a Catholic editor at the press conference as to how strongly he believed the religious liberty of the state’s citizens is protected under current law, Nixon said, “I will work to make sure that those important liberty protections, the religious protections, are protected.”
A summary of various news reports on the issue included quotes from supporters of the bill that described Nixon’s reasoning as “bogus, silly, strained, concocted, and phony.”
Nixon, a Democrat, stopped short of saying he was now aligned with Democrat President Barack Obama on health care policy.
“I’m not confident what that ultimate federal policy will be,” he said. “We’re still at a very early stage of some of the actions there. I’m saying in Missouri, this is an individual and an employer’s choice. We have strong religious exceptions that are working now, and that from Missouri’s position, this is the place I believe that we should be positioned.”
SB 749 was one of 10 bills that Nixon vetoed on July 12. He has now vetoed 14 bills this session.