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Federal judge blocks Missouri law to deny birth control coverage

(Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday blocked a new Missouri law that requires health insurers to offer plans that exclude contraception coverage if employers or individuals object to birth control on moral or religious grounds.

U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig granted a temporary restraining order preventing the enforcement of the law, writing that it appears to conflict with the new federal 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.

State lawmakers in September overrode a veto by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon to enact the law.

The Missouri Insurance Coalition, a nonprofit whose members include health insurers that do business in the state, asked the judge to block the state law, arguing that it conflicts with federal law and is therefore invalid.

Fleissig wrote that the coalition is likely to succeed on that claim "given what appears to be an irreconcilable conflict" between the federal and state laws.

At a hearing, the judge wrote, the Missouri Department of Insurance "could offer no response to how there would not be a direct conflict" between the federal and state laws if an insurer offered a health insurance plan "that acquiesced to an employer's decision not to offer contraceptive coverage."

She is expected to schedule a hearing on a preliminary injunction.

(Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan; editing by Todd Eastham)

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