(Updates with reaction, lawsuit by St. Louis businessman)
By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Mo., July 12 (Reuters) - Missouri's Democratic Governor Jay Nixon on Thursday vetoed a bill that could have resulted in women being denied insurance coverage for contraception, in the latest battle over Catholic Church objections to providing birth control coverage as part of the new health care law.
Republican lawmakers in Missouri drafted the law in response to President Barack Obama's policy of requiring insurers to cover birth control for free as part of the new federal health care law, even if they work for a church or other employer that has a moral objection.
Catholic bishops, backed by many Republicans, have campaigned against the requirement, saying it is an unfair government intrusion on religious freedom. The Catholic Church's formal position is to oppose contraception, although most Catholic women do not follow church doctrine.
The conservative American Center for Law and Justice has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a St. Louis business owner who protests that the Obama administration rule violates his religious beliefs. Frank O'Brien, a devout Catholic who owns an industrial holdings company that processes ceramics, wants to deny his employees birth control coverage but says that the federal regulation prevents him from following his conscience.
The National Council of State Legislatures, which tracks state law changes, said it was not aware of any other state attempting to pass a law like the one vetoed in Missouri.
In vetoing the bill, Nixon noted that state law already allows employers or workers to opt out of contraceptive coverage based on moral or religious beliefs. But the proposed law would have enabled insurance companies to deny coverage even if the employer and employee wanted it, Nixon said.
"By doing so, the bill would shift authority to make decisions about access to contraceptive coverage away from Missouri women, families and employers - and put that power in the hands of insurance companies," Nixon said.
He said this would set a dangerous precedent for the future.
The Republican-dominated Missouri House and Senate could try to override Nixon's veto in September when the Missouri lawmakers hold their veto session. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the legislature.
Nixon's decision won immediate praise from Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which supports the right to abortion.
"We're pleased that he took a courageous stand," Brownlie said. "He knows and everyone knows there will be a strong effort in the House and Senate to override the veto."
Nixon's likely Republican opponent in the fall election, Dave Spence, criticized Nixon on his campaign website Thursday.
"Jay Nixon chose to stand with President Obama and radical pro-choice advocates instead of the overwhelming number of Missourians who do not want Obamacare, who do not want our religious liberties infringed upon," Spence said.
The Missouri Catholic Conference on Thursday urged people of faith to contact legislators to urge them to overturn the governor's veto (Additional reporting by Stephanie Simon in Denver; Editing by Greg McCune, Todd Eastham and Lisa Shumaker)
99 Problems (JAY-Z)
Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser for Mitt Romney, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/06/03/494238/fehrnstrom-shiny-objects-women/" target="_hplink">said on Sunday</a> that issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights, such as abortion and birth control, were "shiny objects" meant to distract voters from the real issues. "Mitt Romney is pro-life," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "He'll govern as a pro-life president, but you're going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people's attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election."
The Senate will vote Thursday on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would expand and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and make it illegal for employers to punish women for bringing up pay disparity issues. Dana Perino, a Fox News contributor and former press secretary for President George W. Bush, <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/04/30/perino-equal-pay-issue-is-a-distraction-for-just-48-hours/" target="_hplink">called the equal pay issue</a> "a distraction" from the country's real financial problems last week. "Well, it's just yet another distraction of dealing with the major financial issues that the country should be dealing with," Perino said. "This is not a job creator."
Just My Imagination (The Temptations)
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose home state's legislature recently defunded Planned Parenthood and voted to pass a bill that would allow employers to deny women birth control coverage, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/john-mccain-war-on-women_n_1455591.html" target="_hplink">delivered a floor speech</a> in which he insisted that the war on women is something imaginary for Democrats to "sputter about." "My friends, this supposed 'War on Women' or the use of similarly outlandish rhetoric by partisan operatives has two purposes, and both are purely political in their purpose and effect: The first is to distract citizens from real issues that really matter and the second is to give talking heads something to sputter about when they appear on cable television," he said.
Butterfly Fly Away (Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus)
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tried to trivialize concerns about the legislative "war on women" by comparing it to a "war on caterpillars." "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we'd have problems with caterpillars," Priebus <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-05/priebus-says-gender-battle-as-fictonal-as-caterpillar-war.html" target="_hplink">said in an April interview</a> on Bloomberg Television. "It's a fiction."
Distraction (Angels And Airwaves)
Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman (R) took heat from her opponents in May when she contended that Democratic lawmakers' focus on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was "a distraction" from the issues they should be dealing with instead. "I think it's unfortunate that the Democrats have made a political football out of this thing, which I think is what they keep doing to distract from real problems that are facing our nation," she said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.
We Don't Care (Kanye West)
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) defended the Republican Party in April for going after insurance coverage for contraception by arguing that women don't actually care about contraception. "Women don't care about contraception," she said on ABC's The View. "They care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all those other things."