Press Releases 2004

Catholics for a Free Choice Applauds the California Supreme Court’s Decision to Uphold Women’s Access to Contraceptive Services

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WASHIONGTON, DC—Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) welcomes today’s ruling in the California case Catholic Charities v. Superior Court as an important step in acknowledging women’s right to equal access to the healthcare services they need. The California Supreme Court today issued a 6 to 1 decision in support of the constitutionality of the California Contraceptive Equity Act. Once again, a California court has upheld the Women’s Contraceptive Equity Act of 2000, which requires that all healthcare plans including coverage for prescription drugs also include contraceptive coverage.

Jon O’Brien, Vice President of Catholics for a Free Choice, said of the decision:

We hope the sound decision made today will be reflected throughout the country as other state courts are faced with similar erroneous claims. Hopefully this decision will bring proper scrutiny on Catholic healthcare facilities that seek to circumvent state laws and deny women access to healthcare that they are legally entitled to. This decision is particularly important to economically challenged women and men. Justice has been served.

It was three years ago that Catholic Charities of Sacramento first filed a lawsuit challenging the law on the grounds that it violates their religious freedom. In response, CFFC led a coalition of reproductive health advocates and progressive Catholic groups in challenging Catholic Charities of Sacramento. CFFC filed an amici brief supporting the law and women’s right to contraceptive access, while illustrating that Catholic Charities has no legal right to claim an exemption and no moral right to claim that the law violates their religious freedom. As the legal case moved up the court system, CFFC continued to be there, issuing amici briefs and framing the issue for advocates and the general public. Along with many reproductive health advocates and Catholic organizations, CFFC was there to challenge Catholic Charities of Sacramento, and we were there when the California Court of Appeals unanimously rejected their claim. It was right for the court to deny Catholic Charities of Sacramento then, and it is right now.

In pursuing its claim, Catholic Charities of Sacramento was resisting its legal obligation to provide contraceptive coverage to its employees while challenging the law because it exempts only “religious employers,” identified as those who meet the IRS definition of “church” and who function primarily to promote their religion and to serve those of the same faith. As CFFC has continuously pointed out through this legal process, Catholic Charities of Sacramento has no legal right to claim an exemption and no moral right to claim the law violates its religious freedom. Catholic Charities is not a “religious employer,” as it is primarily a welfare agency employing and serving many non-Catholics. Agencies that receive government funding, provide services to the general public, and employ people of all faiths should not be legally entitled to religious exemptions.

Catholic Charities of Sacramento’s claim that forcing it to comply with the law would violate its religious freedom because the ban on contraception is unequivocal is baseless. Under Catholic tradition and teaching, Catholics may dissent from the ban on contraceptives in good faith, and the vast majority of Catholics do. Catholic Charities of Sacramento claims a constitutional right to religious liberty, while denying women’s moral and constitutional right to assert control over their own bodies.

Catholics for a Free Choice applauds the California Supreme Court’s ruling because it is right for women and reflects a legal commitment to justice.

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Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women's well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives.