California Court Rules Catholic Group’s Insurance Must Cover Birth Control

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 2, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

California Court Rules Catholic Group’s Insurance Must Cover Birth Control

by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 2, 2004

Sacramento, CA ( — The California Supreme Court has ruled that a Catholic group must provide coverage for birth control in its health insurance plan, regardless of the fact that contraception is contrary to teachings of the Catholic Church. The decision sets the stage for possibly forcing Catholic and other Christian groups to pay for other immoral activities such as abortion or assisted suicides, if legalized.

The California Supreme Court ruled 6-1 on Monday that "religious employers” such as churches are exempt from providing coverage for birth control. But, it said that Catholic Charities is not exempt since it is not a church — but rather a related organization — and because it offers secular services such as counseling low-income housing, and immigration services.

Justice Kathryn Werdegar also wrote that Catholic Charities is not exempt because the majority of the people it serves are not Catholic.

The decision could open the door for mandatory coverage of abortion in health insurance plans, warns Carol Hogan of the California Catholic Conference. Hogan said the decision "shows no respect" for the rights of religious groups to be conscientious objectors when it comes to funding such practices.

Pro-life advocates worry the ruling could affect church-backed, schools, and other institutions in California and elsewhere.

"California is just one court case away from requiring employers, even churches to cover abortions in their health insurance policies," Jan Carroll, of the California Pro-Life Council, told

Carroll said that the end result of the court’s decision may be that some religious institutions decide not to provide any health insurance coverage at all rather than be forced to pay for objectionable things.

Justice Janice Rogers Brown, whom President Bush has nominated for a federal appeals court position, was the lone dissenter. She argued that the legislature’s definition of "religious employer" was too narrow.

"Here we are dealing with an intentional, purposeful intrusion into a religious organization’s expression of its religious tenets and sense of mission,” Brown wrote. "The government is not accidentally or incidentally interfering with religious practice; it is doing so willfully by making a judgment about what is or is not a religion.”

Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, says the court’s majority misunderstands the relationship of Catholic Charities to the church.

"Every Catholic Charities is part of the Catholic diocese in the area where it is," he said. "Officially and formally, Catholic Charities of Sacramento is part of the Catholic Church in Sacramento, answerable to the local bishop and providing the services the church provides as a religious organization."

Dolejsi said Catholic Charities has been providing the birth control coverage "under protest" while the lawsuit was pending. He said he did not know if Catholic Charities would terminate its prescription drug coverage plan, thereby eliminating the requirement to fund birth control.

Pro-abortion groups favored the ruling with the ACLU, which filed briefs in the case, saying that denying birth control coverage is discriminatory against women, who pay for a greater share of contraception costs than men.

The California Supreme Court previously ruled that abortions may be paid for with state taxpayer funds, overturning legislation passed by the state legislature.

Related web sites:
California Catholic Conference –
California Pro-Life Council –