By Jackie Schmidt
It appears that much of the local media has not studied in detail the provisions of Missouri Senate Bill 749 (SB749), the religious liberty bill presently awaiting Gov. Jay Nixon's signature. This bill ensures that the moral and religious beliefs of consumers are respected in the insurance market. This means protecting the free exercise of the rights of conscience for all individuals, not just official religious institutions.
First, SB749 requires insurance companies to provide clear and conspicuous notice as to whether a proposed plan will cover abortions or contraceptives. Right now, consumers are often unaware of whether their plan will cover these items.
Second, if the customer objects on moral or religious grounds to paying for abortions or contraceptives, the insurance company must write a policy that excludes these items. Currently, a company can refuse to write such a policy.
Third, SB749 ensures continued access to contraceptives for those who want insurance coverage for contraceptives. For example, if an employer opts out of including contraceptives in the company's health plan, an employee has a legal right to purchase the contraceptive coverage directly from the insurer.
Fourth, SB749 addresses a concern that has emerged recently where insurers "bundle" elective (surgical) abortions into their "family planning" coverage. Consumers may not know that they or their employers are paying for abortions. SB749 makes consumers aware of this issue and allows them to exclude and not pay for this coverage if they have moral or religious objections.
Much of the local media mistakenly, or mendaciously, claims that SB749 is no more than "a slap at President Obama's Affordable Care Act and a bow to anti-abortion rights groups." Among those most active in public policy in Missouri, on both sides of the issue, they truly stand alone in holding this opinion. In fact, as explained above, SB749 defends freedom of choice and conscience for all Missourians and this protection will be needed regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
I urge all Missourians to call Gov. Jay Nixon's office (573-751-3222) and urge him to sign SB749. No citizen should be forced to carry insurance coverage on any issue one finds morally objectionable.
Jackie Schmidt is the province director for the U.S. National Council of Catholic Women.