Supreme Court Rejects Catholic Charities’ Appeal of District Court Ruling Upholding State Contraceptive Coverage Law
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected without comment Catholic Charities' challenge of a California law that requires employers -- including religiously affiliated organizations -- to cover contraceptives if they provide coverage for other prescriptions, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/5). Catholic Charities -- which employs 1,600 people in California -- in 2000 filed a challenge to the 1999 California law that mandates contraception coverage, saying that the law should be "set aside as a violation of religious freedom."
However, the 3rd District Court of Appeals in July 2001 ruled that the law was "enacted to eliminate discriminatory insurance practices that had undermined the health and economic well-being of women" and "does not advance or inhibit religion." Although the law has an exemption for religious employers whose primary goal is to promote religious beliefs and that primarily employ and serve people of a certain religion, Catholic Charities legally is a secular organization that receives government funding.
The California Supreme Court in March upheld the state law, saying that Catholic Charities cannot be exempt from the law because the organization is not a religious employer, provides services to people of various religions and does not directly preach Roman Catholic doctrine (California Healthline, 3/2).
The court's action is "a huge victory for working women who have suffered unfair and unjust discrimination," Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D), whose office defended the law, said, adding, "As the California courts have consistently ruled, nonreligious employers cannot discriminate against women in the workplace based on their employers' religious beliefs" (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/5).
Louise Melling of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project, who defended the state measure, also praised the court's decision, saying that it "affirms" that non-religious institutions "cannot impose religious views about family planning on employees who may not agree with them," the Los Angeles Times reports (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 10/5).
However, Catholic Charities attorney Kevin Baine was "disappoint[ed]" with the ruling, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Baine said that the Supreme Court eventually will address the issue of "whether it violates a church entity's religious freedom to subsidize conduct it considers immoral." Baine added, "If the state of California can coerce Catholic agencies to pay for contraceptives, it can coerce them to pay for abortions."
Kevin Eckery -- spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, which oversees Catholic Charities -- said that the diocese currently is studying the case to determine if the organization has other options besides providing contraceptive coverage or eliminating prescription drug coverage altogether, which it considers an "unacceptable" option, the Chronicle reports (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/5).