State Court Rules Against Catholic Church on Insurance
The New York Times reported today that:
New York State’s highest court ruled yesterday that the Roman Catholic Church and other religious organizations must abide by a state law that requires most employee health insurance policies to cover the cost of contraception.
The 6-to-0 decision by the Court of Appeals upheld rulings by the State Supreme Court and the Appellate Division, and left intact the state’s Women’s Health and Wellness Act of 2002, which requires company health insurance policies that provide coverage for prescription drugs to include “coverage for the cost of contraceptive drugs or devices.”
It had been challenged on religious grounds by a group that includes eight Catholic and two Baptist organizations. Arguing that the law requires them to violate the dictates of their faith, the group sought to exempt religious schools, hospitals and social service organizations, broadening a far narrower “religious employer” exemption already included in the state rules.
The New York State Catholic Conference, speaking for the state’s bishops, said it would consider appealing the ruling to the United States Supreme Court “to review it and reverse it.”
“The case is not about the right of New Yorkers to use contraception; it is about religious liberty,” said Richard E. Barnes, the group’s executive director. “In effect, the state has declared Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations secular,” he said, adding that the ruling gave legislators “carte blanche to pass laws even more offensive to religious practice.”
The ruling followed a similar decision in 2004 by the California Supreme Court, which rejected a challenge by Catholic Charities to a nearly identical state statute. In that case, Catholic Charities was denied a hearing before the Supreme Court.
In New York, the Insurance Department was joined by the New York district of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Jewish Congress and other groups in defending the insurance regulation’s terms.
“This is a great day for the women of New York State,” said JoAnn M. Smith, president of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, which represents Planned Parenthood and other family planning groups.
“The urgent need to prevent discrimination in health care was rightly, and unanimously, affirmed by the highest court in the state,” she said.
The court’s 18-page decision said that legislators had intended the 2002 law to “advance both women’s health and the equal treatment of men and women.” It said a study considered by the Legislature had shown that women paid 68 percent more than men in out-of-pocket expenses for health care, and that the discrepancy resulted mainly from the cost of reproductive health services.
In addition to contraceptives, the New York law requires employee insurance to cover osteoporosis exams and screenings for breast and cervical cancer.
In large measure, the issues raised in the case centered on an exemption for “religious employers,” who are not required to provide coverage for contraception. In those cases, the law requires insurance companies to offer the coverage to individual employees, which they can elect to pay by themselves.
But the exemption devised in 2002, and upheld by the court yesterday, does not apply to church schools, hospitals or organizations that employ and serve people from diverse religious backgrounds.
The complete story may be found here: