Catholic Charities Must Offer Contraception Coverage

July 3, 2001 ( - The California Court of Appeals has denied a petition by Catholic Charities of Sacramento that would allow the group to exclude prescription contraceptive coverage from its employee health benefits plan.

Catholic Charities had argued that, under the religious tenets of Catholicism, the use of contraception is extrinsically evil and a grave sin. They were challenging the state’s Contraceptive Equity Act, which requires that California employers who provide their employees with health insurance coverage or disability insurance coverage that includes prescription drug benefits must also include prescription contraceptives in the coverage.

The appellate court found that it is not reasonably probable that Catholic Charities? action will prevail on the merits and denied the petition.

Women’s Rights

The court ruled that the prescription contraceptive coverage statutes were enacted to eliminate discriminatory insurance practices that had undermined the health and economic well-being of women. The court took note of the fact that mainly due to the exclusion of contraception coverage, women pay 63-68% higher out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

The court also deferred to findings of the California legislature in passing the bill, noting that in order for women to achieve and maintain economic and social parity and independence, it was “essential” that they have the ability to “reliably control” their reproductive capacity.

The court also noted that, confronted with exactly the issue presented by the plaintiffs here, the legislature achieved compromise with an exemption that permits “religious employers,” for whom contraception “is contrary to [their] religious tenets,” to obtain employee health and disability insurance policies without coverage of prescription contraceptives.

Religious Employers

A “religious employer” was defined as one who:

  • has the inculcation of religious values as the organization’s purpose
  • primarily employs individuals who share the religious tenets of the entity
  • primarily serves persons who share the religious tenets
  • is a non-profit organization

Catholic Charities conceded that it met none of those criteria and filed for relief.

In its ruling, the court said, “Because the statutes have a secular purpose, do not advance or inhibit religion, and do not foster excessive government entanglement with religion, the incidental effect of the statutes on religious beliefs does not violate the religious guarantees of the United States and California Constitutions.”

The case is at