The California Supreme Court has made no immediate decision in the appeal of the local Catholic Church to be exempted from a state law requiring employers, who offer prescription drug plans, to include coverage for contraceptives.
Arguing that contraception is against Catholic doctrine and core Catholic principles, the Church wants to be excused from having to provide contraceptives for the 50,000 people who work in Catholic charity and medical facilities in California.
"The Church teaches that the practice of artificial contraception is morally unacceptable," said James Sweeney, an attorney for Catholic Charities of Sacramento, which offers social services.
Sweeney also said that the law, passed three years ago to combat gender discrimination in the workplace, violates the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom because it forbids the Church from practicing what it preaches.
In the California Supreme Court debate, Justice Carlos Moreno wondered whether Church workers have a right to contraceptives regardless of Catholic doctrine. "What about the rights of the employees?" he asked.
Justice Joyce Kennard appeared unconvinced that requiring coverage for contraceptives was necessary, demanding: "What is the compelling interest of the state law?"
Deputy Attorney General Timothy Muscat said that before the law, about half the state's employers, who offered prescription benefits, did not provide contraceptives.
Justice Janice Rogers Brown, whose nomination to a federal appeals judgeship by President George W. Bush is being filibustered in the Senate, asked whether California could demand the Church end its ban on women clergy. "Could the state of California say that's not a good idea?" she asked.
A decision is expected this week.