[JURIST] New York's Court of Appeals [official website], the state's highest court, handed down a 6-0 decision [PDF text] Thursday, banning Catholic Charities [organization website] and nine other social service organizations from refusing to provide birth control insurance coverage for their employees. The decision hinged on whether such organizations would be classified as social services agencies or as churches under the Women's Health and Wellness Act of 2002 (WHWA) [text; S 3221]. The Act, spurred by the lobbying efforts of statewide reproductive rights [JURIST news archive] organizations, requires employers to extend preventative health coverage, including mammograms, bone screenings and prescription contraceptives, to their female employees. The law exempts only those employers who are religious in nature, such as churches, mosques and temples.
The court considered the organizations' "interests in adhering to the tenets of their faith" and the "state's substantial interest in fostering equality between the sexes, and in providing women with better health care." The court then noted that, as the social service organizations had hired employees whose faiths differed from those of their own religious affiliations, the court could not allow the employers' underlying religious beliefs to preclude employee access to preventative health care. Catholic Charities has said that it is considering an appeal of the decision to the US Supreme Court and would, under protest, continue to offer prescription contraceptive coverage to its employees. AP has more.