Religious Groups Lose Appeal of Contraceptive Coverage Decision

October 23, 2006 - ( - The New York Court of Appeals has ruled that a group of church-affiliated employers must provide contraceptive coverage in their prescription coverage plan for employees.

In its decision, the appellate panel unanimously agreed that the employers did not qualify as exempt “religious employers” under the state’s Women’s Health and Wellness Act. The exemption provided that employers could provide prescription drug coverage without including contraceptive coverage that went against their beliefs if the purpose of the entities is to promote their religious values, the entities primarily employ individuals who hold those opinions, and the entities primarily serve individuals who share their values.

For the case at hand, brought by Catholic and Baptist charity groups, the state’s high court pointed out the groups did not primarily employ or serve those of the same faith. According to the opinion, “[W]hen a religious organization chooses to hire non-believers it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees’ legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit.”

The appellate panel pointed out that the legislation was intended to advance women’s health and the equal treatment of men and women for employer health coverage. The court noted that the Act does not force employers to provide contraceptive coverage since employers are free to choose not to provide prescription drug coverage at all.

According to the opinion, the groups did not prove the legislation interfered with their freedom to practice their religion.

The latest decision upheld a January 2005 ruling by a lower court (See Empire State Appellate Panel Backs Contraceptives Coverage Law ). The opinion in Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany et al. v. Gregory V. Serio, as Superintendent of Insurance is here .