Missouri lawmakers voted Wednesday to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto and allow employers to refuse to provide health insurance coverage for birth control if doing so violates their religious convictions.
But almost immediately after the vote, a Kansas City firefighter and the Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women filed a lawsuit asking a judge to throw the new law out.
The Republican-led House and Senate each met the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor's veto of a bill that states no employer or health insurance provider can be compelled to provide coverage for contraception, abortion or sterilization.
"This is a victory for Catholics, people of all faiths, and more specifically, Missouri citizens who value religious liberty," the Archdiocese of St. Louis said in a statement, later adding that the override vote was "a powerful pro-life statement, one that gives us hope that conscience rights will be extended to all U.S. citizens."
In the Senate, the vote to override was 26 to 6, with one Republican joining five Democrats in opposition.
However, the real drama was in the Missouri House, where the override was successful by a 109 to 45 vote, the minimum required by the state Constitution.
The deciding vote was cast by Rep. Chris Molendorp, a Belton Republican and an insurance agent who was the only member of his party to oppose the birth control bill when it originally passed in May.
A visibly distraught Molendorp left the House floor and did not participate in a Republican press conference after the vote. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
Of the 109 votes to override, seven were cast by Democrats -- Reps. Ron Casey, Joe Fallert, Ben Harris, Paul Quinn, Ed Schieffer, Tom Shively and Terry Swinger.
Nixon vetoed the bill this summer, arguing that Missouri law already gives employers the freedom to omit these types of coverage in their health plans on religious grounds.
But this bill, the governor contended, went one step too far by giving insurance companies the power to deny contraception coverage -- even if an employee wants it and is willing to pay for it.
The bill "stands between a woman and their right to make their own personal decisions about whether to use birth control. That is not the right path forward for Missouri," Nixon said.
The governor later added: "It's a shame we're still debating access to birth control in 2012."
Proponents of the bill, however, said it was a direct response to an Obama administration policy that requires health insurance plans to cover contraception. The policy does not pertain to abortion and includes an exemption for religious organizations.
Sen. John Lamping, a Ladue Republican who sponsored the legislation, said the Obama administration's policy will force employers to choose between "their religiously held beliefs and this mandate."
"This is not an issue about access," Lamping said. "All employees still have access to these services. This is an issue about who pays for them."
The lawsuit challenging the new law, filed in Cole County Circuit Court, alleged that because it conflicts with federal law it must be thrown out. Plaintiffs also contended the new law violates the Missouri Human Rights Act, which protects workers against discriminatory employment practices based on, among other things, gender and religion.
"We consider this move to be just another right-wing assault on workers limiting our members' options and choices," said Edward Keenan, an attorney representing the firefighter and union. "Our message is loud and clear: When you attack workers' access to health care, labor fights back."