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CFFC Decries Contraception Exemption for Employers

April 14, 1999

California Catholic Groups Lobby for Religious Privilege

SACRAMENTO – Catholic leaders are attempting to limit public access to contraceptives in the state of California.

State legislation to be voted on tomorrow on the floor of the California state legislature, would require prescription benefits plans to cover contraceptives, but the California Association of Catholic Hospitals and the California Catholic Conference are supporting a “Conscience Clause” amendment which they want added to the legislation.  The clause would exempt religious organizations from offering the contraceptive coverage, if they claimed contraception is inconsistent with their beliefs.  If the legislation were to be passed with the suggested amendment, Californians of any faith or no faith who work for religious organizations – including Catholic hospitals, schools, diocesan offices, and Catholic Relief Services – would be denied health insurance benefits for prescription contraceptives.

“This proposed amendment is an inappropriate intrusion by an employer into the private decision of employees,” said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice.  “Why should a religious employer with one view be able to withhold contraceptive benefits to employees who are Baptists, or Jews, or Buddhists, or Catholics who believe that contraception is a moral choice?

“Furthermore, there is nothing in Catholic teaching that requires this kind of exemption,” Kissling said.  “For some reason, the California Association of Catholic Hospitals and the California Catholic Conference are taking an even harder line than the Vatican on contraception.”

Father Bryan Hehir, a high-ranking official of the United States Catholic Conference at the time, noted in 1974 that the church could “regard contraceptive practice as an issue of private morality that the church continues to teach for its members but not an issue of public morality on which it seeks to affect public policy”.

“Finally, it is not only ironic but also tragic that Catholic associations want to limit access to contraception when it is proven to be the most effective, least coercive way to reduce the need for abortion,” Kissling said.