October 4, 2004

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ACLU Hails Decision to Promote Women's Health and End Gender Discrimination in Insurance Coverage

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court today turned down a request by Catholic Charities in California to review a state supreme court decision requiring employers that provide prescription drug benefits to include contraceptive coverage.  By refusing to hear the case, the High Court leaves in place a ruling that the California Women's Contraceptive Equity Act promotes women's health and eliminates gender discrimination.

""This case affirms that institutions like Catholic Charities, that employ and serve people of many faiths and whose primary purpose is not religious, cannot impose religious views about family planning on employees who may not agree with them,"" said Louise Melling, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project.  

The law in question 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 promote religious doctrine and who primarily employ and serve people who share their religious beliefs.

The California case was closely watched nationwide because the Act's exemption has been viewed as a model for ensuring expanded health care coverage and protecting religious liberty.

Throughout 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 at issue, balancing the fundamental rights of gender equity, reproductive freedom, and religious liberty.  The ACLU also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the California State Supreme Court arguing that the law effectively protects workers' rights and health without violating religious liberties. 

""California has protected women from discrimination,"" said Margaret Crosby, an attorney at the ACLU of Northern California.  ""The Act ensures that women, whose religious views differ from those of their employers, are not forced to pay substantial out-of-pocket costs for basic health care.""

In a related case, a New York trial court upheld a similar law in December of 2003, concluding that the law fulfilled a legitimate governmental interest in promoting women's health and ending gender discrimination.  Catholic Charities has appealed the case.  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. SO99822.  Lawyers on the ACLU brief include Melling and Julie Sternberg of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and Crosby of the ACLU of Northern CA.

The ACLU brief is available online at: /node/37809

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