CONTRACEPTIVE COVERAGE: Catholic Leaders File Suit Over New Law
The California Catholic Conference has filed a lawsuit over a new state law that requires health insurance companies to cover birth-control pills in employee health plans offering prescription drug coverage, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Filed last month in Sacramento County Superior Court, the suit argues that the law, called the Women's Contraceptive Equity Act, does not "allow adequate exemptions for church agencies that oppose contraception on moral grounds." The organization, a lobbying group for the state's bishops, argues that Catholic Charities of Sacramento and other church agencies would have to offer contraception coverage to their employees, even when "coverage is in direct contradiction to Catholic moral teachings." Rick Mockler, executive director of Catholic Charities of California, said: "We understand that a majority of Catholics, let alone the general public, do not adhere to our teachings on birth control. But that's not the point. What's at stake is our ability to control our doctrine." The conference filed 4,000 pages of court documents arguing that the law violates the California Constitution's "liberty of conscience" protections and the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.
A 'Fig-Leaf' Clause
While the law offers a "conscience clause" for religious employers, Catholic Charities does not qualify, because it employs non-Catholics and works as a welfare agency and not primarily to "promote ... religious beliefs." The charity is considered "secular," as it is composed of "semi-independent," not-for-profit corporations serving a general population. California Catholic Conference spokesperson Carol Hogan called the conscience clause a "fig-leaf." She said, "It's gerrymandered to exclude a large portion of the Catholic Church." Supporters of the law say the issue is not a violation of religious freedom of expression, but rather an attempt at "equal rights and equal protection" in the workplace. CEO of Planned Parenthood in California Katherine Kneer said, "[The Catholic Church] want[s] to take this religious exemption and apply it to entities whose primary purpose is not to inculcate religious beliefs. Our concern is for their employees who may not share those beliefs. ... Their rights should not be infringed." Prior to the law's enactment, only 19% of health plans covered oral contraceptives and previous attempts to legislate coverage were vetoed by former Gov. Pete Wilson (R). A hearing on the church's request for a preliminary injunction against the law is set for Sept. 25 (Lattin, 8/19).