The suit contends requiring such an action essentially forces Catholic institutions to endorse practices barred by the church. Under the measure, scheduled to take effect January 1, 2003, insurance plans that employers obtain for their workers must provide coverage for birth control.
The Catholic Church had previously failed in its attempts to persuade the New York Legislature for a broad exemption for institutions sponsored by religious groups. The approved version of the bill grants exemptions to employers only if their primary function is religious and if most of the people they serve and are employed by the organization share that religion.
As a result, the exemption does not apply to Catholic hospitals or schools, which the Church contends will affect the 800 schools, 40 hospitals, 61 nursing homes and hundreds of social services agencies it operates in the state.
The bishops, joined in the lawsuit by several Protestant churches, said they supported aspects of the law that required coverage for mammograms and other women’s health services. “We asked only for an exemption for religious reasons from the contraception portion of the mandate,” they said. “However, our pleas for tolerance were ignored.”
“Such an outrageous law ought to alarm anyone who loves America and the freedoms for which it stands,” the eight bishops said in a statement. “We cannot let this unprecedented intrusion on our religious rights go unchallenged.”