U.S. Supreme Court Rejects NY Contraceptive Coverage Appeal

October 2, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court has turned aside a request from a coalition of church-affiliated groups to review a New York court's affirmation of an Empire State law mandating birth control coverage in employee benefit packages.

Without comment, the nation’s high court rejected the appeal by the 10 groups, including the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany, of a lower court ruling on the dictates of the Women’s Health and Wellness Act of 2002, according to Supreme Court records. The law expanded women’s health care coverage to include contraception as of January 1, 2003.

Specifically at issue in the requested U.S. Supreme Court appeal was an October 2006 decision by theNew York Court of Appeals (See Religious Groups Lose Appeal of Contraceptive Coverage Decision ) affirming the legality of the law and a holding that the organizations are social service agencies – not churches.

That finding meant that the groups would not be eligible for an exemption in the law. The statute excludes churches, seminaries and other institutions with mainly religious missions that primarily serve followers of that religion.

The Court of Appeals decision affirmed a January 2005 ruling by the New York State Appellate Division, 3rd Department (See Empire State Appellate Panel Backs Contraceptives Coverage Law ), which, in turn, affirmed a holding by Albany Supreme Court Justice Dan Lamont.

“The Legislature decided that to grant the broad religious exemption that plaintiffs seek would leave too many women outside the statute, a decision entitled to deference from the courts,” New York Court of Appeals judges wrote in the 2006 ruling. “Of course, the Legislature might well have made another choice, but we cannot say the choice the Legislature made has been shown to be an unreasonable interference with plaintiffs’ exercise of their religion.”

The   New York Court of Appeals ruling is here .