ACLU Applauds CA Supreme Court Decision Promoting Women's Health and Ending Gender Discrimination in Insurance Coverage

March 1, 2004 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


SAN FRANCISCO – The American Civil Liberties Union and its California affiliates today hailed a decision by the California State Supreme Court upholding a California law requiring employers that provide prescription drug benefits to include contraceptive coverage.

“”We’re delighted that the court understood that this law promotes women’s health and ends gender discrimination in insurance coverage without violating religious liberty,”” said Louise Melling, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “”The court rightly recognized that institutions like Catholic Charities, that employ and serve the general public and offer secular, not religious services, cannot discriminate based on their religious beliefs.””

The law in question, the California Women’s Contraceptive Equity Act, requires employers that offer health insurance policies with prescription drug benefits to include coverage for prescription contraceptives. The law exempts religious employers, such as churches, mosques, and temples, whose main purpose is to inculcate religious values and who primarily employ and serve people who share their religious beliefs.

In its legal challenge, Catholic Charities conceded that it does not provide a religious service, that 74 percent of its employees are not Catholic, and that it serves the public at large.

The ACLU crafted the statutory exemption, which reflects a sensitive balance among fundamental rights: gender equality, reproductive freedom and religious liberty. The ACLU also filed a friend-of-the-court brief that argues that the law effectively protects workers’ rights and health while also protecting the sanctity of institutional religious worship.

“”This is a great victory for California women and for reproductive freedom,”” said Margaret Crosby, an attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “”The court’s decision ensures that women can make their own birth control decisions, and that employers cannot impose religious views about family planning on employees who may not agree with them.””

In upholding the law, the Court noted that “”women during their reproductive years spen[d] as much as 68 percent more than men in out-of-pocket health costs,”” due in large part to the cost of contraception and unplanned pregnancies, and concluded that the Act “”serves the compelling purpose of eliminating gender discrimination.””

The California case was closely watched nationwide because the Act’s exemption has been viewed as a model accommodation between efforts to extend health care and claims for religious liberty.

In a related case, a New York trial court upheld a similar law in December of last year, concluding that the law fulfilled a legitimate governmental interest in promoting women’s health and ending gender discrimination. Catholic Charities is expected to file an appeal in that case later this year. The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the New York case as well.

Today’s case is Catholic Charities v. Superior Court, Case No. S099822. Lawyers on the ACLU brief include Julie Sternberg and Catherine Weiss of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and Crosby of the ACLU of Northern California.

The ACLU brief is available online at /node/37809

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release