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California Court rules against Catholic charities in contraceptive equity case.

THE CALIFORNIA SUPREME Court has ruled that a Catholic charity must provide employees with contraceptive coverage. In a six to one decision, the first of its kind in the US, the court ruled that while religious employers are exempt from the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage if their health plans cover other prescription medicines, an organization like Catholic Charities--which filed a suit seeking an exemption--is different because it is not a religious employer. Catholic Charities offers services to people of all faiths, without directly preaching Catholic values.

California implemented the Women's Contraceptive Equity Act in 2000, which requires that all health care plans including coverage for prescription drugs also include contraceptive coverage. The act does exempt "religious employers," identified as only those who meet the IRS definition of "church" and who function primarily to promote their religion and to serve those of the same faith. Catholic Charities of Sacramento filed a lawsuit with the California Court of Appeals, Catholic Charities v. State of California, et al., charging that the law does not allow adequate exemptions for religious affiliations, thereby violating constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, equal protection and free speech.

The judges ruled that Catholic Charities does not meet the requirements for exemption, as it is primarily a welfare agency employing and serving many non-Catholics. Experts said the ruling could affect thousands of workers at church-backed hospitals and institutions in California and prompt other states to fashion similar laws.

California is one of 20 states to require that all company-provided health plans must include contraception coverage if the plans have prescription drug benefits.

Catholics for a Free Choice led a coalition of progressive Catholic groups, including Catholics Speak Out/The Quixote Center, Dignity/USA, Vermont Catholics for a Free Conscience, California Catholics for a Free Choice, the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual and the Women's Ordination Conference, to file an amici brief supporting the law and women's right to contraceptive access, while illustrating that Catholic Charities had no legal right to claim an exemption and no moral right to claim that the law violates their religious freedom.
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Title Annotation:Catholic Health Care
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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