California Supreme Court To Begin Hearing Arguments on Contraceptive Coverage Mandate
The California Supreme Court on Tuesday will begin hearing oral arguments in San Jose in a case challenging a state law enacted in 2000 that requires some state employers, including some Roman Catholic charities, to offer contraception coverage to women, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/1). In 2000, the Catholic Charities of Sacramento filed a lawsuit arguing that the law violates religious freedom. However, the 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled in 2001 that the law is intended to end discriminatory health insurance practices that compromised the health and economic well-being of women and does not affect religion (California Healthline, 9/27/01). The law exempts religious employers opposed to contraception, but only those employers whose primary goal is to promote religious beliefs and who primarily hire and serve like-minded people, the Chronicle reports. The Catholic Church qualifies for the exemption, but Catholic Charities, whose employees and clients are mainly non-Catholic, does not. The ruling, which is due in 90 days, would affect Catholic Charities' 1,600 employees statewide and could apply to other church-affiliated institutions, including Catholic hospitals, which employ 52,000 people statewide.
"The Legislature enacted this law to address four decades of discrimination toward female employees,'' Hallye Jordan, spokesperson for Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D), whose office is defending the law, said. She added, "A ruling against the law would make it possible for any employer to claim some sort of religious objection and sidestep providing health coverage in a nondiscriminatory manner." In the state's brief, Deputy Attorney General Meg Halloran said Catholic Charities legally is a secular organization and gets "substantial funding from the government," adding that Catholic Charities can oppose contraception in public statements but cannot discriminate in providing health coverage, the Chronicle reports. James Sweeney, a lawyer for Catholic Charities, said that the law would force the organization to violate "the Catholic religious and moral imperative that that the institutional church ... practice what it preaches." Rick Mockler, executive director of Catholic Charities of California, said that the case "boils down to a very simple question: Under the Constitution, does the state of California have the right to tell its citizens how to practice their religion?" (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/1). KQED's "California Report" Tuesday reported on the case (Shuler, "California Report," KQED, 12/2). The full segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.