Supreme Court rejects Catholic Charities’ challenge to contraceptive benefits

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The Supreme Court refused yesterday to reverse a ruling, which forces California religious organizations to pay for birth control pills in the health insurance benefits they offer employees.

Catholic Charities had filed an appeal of a California Supreme Court ruling made earlier this year.

Catholic Charities challenged the Women's Contraceptive Equity Act, and argued that it should not be forced to pay for its employees’ contraceptives based on its First Amendment right to exercise its religious beliefs without government interference.

The Supreme Court had been asked to review California’s law, which exempts churches from this requirement but not religious institutions, like hospitals and charity organizations.

“If the state of California can coerce Catholic agencies to pay for contraceptives, it can force them to pay for abortions,” attorney Kevin Baine told justices in the appeal for Catholic Charities.

But Timothy Muscat, California’s deputy attorney general, said Catholic Charities could get around the requirement by not offering insurance to employees.

The California Supreme Court had ruled against Catholic Charities March 1, 2004.

The California Conference of Catholic Bishops said the March 1 decision was disappointing “because it demonstrates no respect for religious organizations that have historically partnered with the state in providing health, education and social services to the people of California.

“It appears that the high Court deems the Women's Contraceptive Equity Act a compelling state interest, which in turn should have triggered the test of ‘least restrictive means available’ for the implementation of the policy,” they had said.

“The least restrictive means possible would be for the state to provide the contraceptives to those women whose religious employer declined to offer them—not to coerce her employer into offering a prescription drug that the Church teaches is immoral,” they concluded.

The Women's Contraceptive Equity Act was passed in 1999 in an effort to stop discrimination against women who pay more for drugs than men do. There are currently about 20 U.S. states that require employers to cover the cost of birth control pills in the prescription benefits they offer employees.

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