US Court forces Church to provide contraceptive medical cover

A ruling by the New York Court of Appeals says that Catholic and other religious charities must provide contraceptive coverage as part of their workplace medical insurance programs even if they are morally opposed to contraception.

"We think this has never really been about contraception, we think it was to target the church and open the door for coverage of abortion," said Dennis Poust, spokesman for the US Catholic Bishops conference told EITB News.

The 6-0 decision by the Court hinged on defining Catholic Charities and the other nine religious groups suing the state to be social service agencies, rather than only operating as churches.

The organisations "believe contraception to be sinful", the decision states. "We must weigh against (their) interests in adhering to the tenets of their faith the state's substantial interest in fostering equality between the sexes, and in providing women with better health care."

"I think it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of Catholicism, which teaches that to be saved, Catholics must perform works of mercy. Faith alone is not enough ... and the way the church performs its works of mercy is through its Catholic Charities, its schools and its hospitals, all of which the state has now held is secular," Dennis Poust said.

At issue is the 2002 Women's Health Wellness Act, a measure that requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for mammograms, cervical cytology, bone density screening and other preventive services for women including prescription contraceptives.

Catholic charities and the other groups sued the state to be exempt from the requirement, but narrowly lost in a lower court in 2003 and last year at the appellate level.

The New York law does exempt churches, seminaries and other institutions with a mainly religious mission that primarily serve followers of that religion.

As Catholic charities considers an appeal, it will continue to cover contraceptives for employees under protest. If the decision stands, the organization could consider dropping prescription drug coverage for employees, a highly unlikely change, or consider the costly route of self insurance, Poust added.

However, other organisations welcomed the court's decision.

"Today's ruling shows that no one is above the law, including the Catholic bishops," said Kelli Conlin, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, part of the national abortion rights organisation. "No employer should be able to force their beliefs upon their employees, especially given that 97 percent of Catholics report using birth control."

The court said the fact that the organisations hire employees outside their faith is a critical factor and they deserve the rights sought under the law.

New York State Court of Appeals upholds contraceptive coverage law (News Medical, 23/10/06))
Court rules: Catholic Church must cover contraceptives (EITB News, 22/10/06)

Vatican urged to reopen debate on birth control (CathNews, 17/2/06)
Catholic chemists refuse to sell pill (CathNews, 23/6/05)
Family Planning Council aims to become more relevant (CathNews 13/11/02)
Church 'got it right' on the Pill more than 30 years ago (CathNews 17/8/01)

24 Oct 2006