This fall, California's Supreme Court will hear arguments in a high-profile case that will determine whether religious ministries must pay for contraception for their employees, even if such payments contravene their religious principles. The Women's Contraception Equity Act is the focus of the appeal.
The law mandates that any firm providing health insurance in California cover contraception expenses. Catholic Charities of Sacramento sued to gain exemption from the contraception provision and won. But a state appeals court ruled against the group in July 2001, triggering an appeal to the state high court.
Catholic Charities says paying for contraception violates Roman Catholic teaching against the use of artificial birth control. The California act exempts churches and some Christian ministries. It does not, however, exempt organizations (such as Catholic Charities) that work with the broader public and do not use religious criteria in hiring workers.
"This [law] punishes charities [that] are trying to do a good work because they don't toe the line with Planned Parenthood," said Wendy Wright, a senior policy director at Concerned Women for America in Washington, D.C. "You could be shut out of business."
Alan Brownstein, a constitutional expert and law professor at the University of California, Davis, sees potential for the court to set a bad precedent. "In this particular case, we're dealing with contraception," he says. "If Catholic Charities loses, the next [state] regulation that interferes with an autonomous religious institution could have a different mandate. There is no shortage of state regulations that could impinge."
Supporting the state's view, the American Civil Liberties Union's Margaret Crosby argued in an amicus ...1
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