U.S. Supreme Court Denies Review of New York Law Requiring Insurers to Cover Contraceptives

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October 1, 2007 —  The U.S. Supreme Court today denied a request by Catholic Charities of New York to review a state court decision requiring insurance companies to include contraceptive coverage in drug benefit packages. The Court’s refusal to hear the case leaves in place a law that promotes women’s health and addresses gender discrimination while appropriately protecting religious freedom.

The law at issue, the Women’s Health and Wellness Act, requires insurance companies to cover women’s preventive health care, including mandating that insurance plans that cover prescription drugs do not exclude contraceptives from that coverage.

“This law ended the practice of treating birth control, which only women use, differently than other commonly used prescription drugs -- a practice that contributed to disproportionately high health costs for women,” said Galen Sherwin, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Rights Project. “The Supreme Court’s decision not to review the case ensures that the state of New York can continue to protect women from this form of discrimination.”

The law exempts religious employers such as churches, mosques, and temples, whose main purpose is to promote a particular religious faith and who primarily employ and serve people who share their religious beliefs.

Catholic Charities appealed a 2006 decision by the Court of Appeals for the State of New York, New York’s highest court, that concluded that the Women’s Health and Wellness Act was a neutral law designed to advance both women’s health and the equal treatment of men and women. That court also held that “when 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.”

“Religiously affiliated organizations, such as Catholic Charities, that employ and serve people of diverse beliefs should not be able to discriminate against their female employees by refusing to cover basic health services,” said Louise Melling, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project. “Religiously affiliated organizations that provide nonreligious services to the public must play by public rules.”

Ten religiously affiliated organizations brought the challenge against the Women’s Health and Wellness Act. The organizations included Catholic Charities of Albany and Ogdensburg and other Catholic and Baptist social service organizations. The ACLU and the NYCLU filed friend-of-the-court briefs at every step of the state court proceedings in support of the Act.

In October 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a request by Catholic Charities to review a similar law, the California Women’s Contraceptive Equity Act. The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in that case, Catholic Charities v. Superior Court, as well.

Today’s case is Catholic Charities v. Dinallo, Case No. 06-1550. Lawyers on the ACLU and NYCLU brief include Diana Kasdan of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and Sherwin and Arthur Eisenberg of the NYCLU.