JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A federal judge has struck down a Missouri law exempting moral objectors from mandatory birth control coverage because it conflicts with an insurance requirement under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig cites a provision in the U.S. Constitution declaring that federal laws take precedence over contradictory state laws. But Fleissig emphasized that she was taking no position on the merits of the Obama administration policy, which requires insurers to cover contraception at no additional cost to women.
It was not immediately clear Monday whether the Missouri attorney general would appeal the ruling, which was dated Thursday but not publicized.
The Missouri law requires 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 state’s Republican-led Legislature overrode the veto of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon last September to enact the law, which appeared to be the first in the nation to directly rebut the Obama administration’s contraception policy.
Fleissig had issued a temporary restraining order against Missouri’s law last December. The law had been challenged by insurance providers, who feared they could be caught in legal quagmire by the differing federal and state requirements.
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.”
The judge noted that the federal law includes penalties of $100 per day per employee and an annual tax surcharge of $2,000 per employee for violations of its provisions. The state insurance department already issued orders seeking civil penalties against two insurers for not offering plans excluding contraception coverage as required by the Missouri law.