To the Readers' Forum:
In November 2002, Republican Gov. Pataki signed into law the New York Women's Health and Wellness Act requiring employee health insurance plans to include prescription contraceptives if they cover prescriptions.
The act contains language that carefully balances religious freedom and reproductive rights. The clause exempts institutions whose primary purpose is to spread a religious message, such as churches, mosques, and synagogues, while requiring lay entities whose primary purpose is secular, such as religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and social service organizations, to comply with the mandate.
Soon after passage of the WHWA, the Catholic Charities and nine other religiously affiliated social service groups sued the state claiming the law violated the U.S. and New York State Constitutions. Amicus briefs, (legal documents supporting the law), were filed by the Reproductive Rights Project and Reproductive Freedom Project to defend the law.
A New York trial court upheld the law as constitutional, noting that a broader exemption would frustrate the law's goals of promoting women's health and ending gender discrimination. In September 2004, Catholic Charities appealed to the New York State Appellate Division, Third Department, and the Reproductive Rights Project and Reproductive Freedom Project filed their second amicus brief.
On Jan. 12, 2006, the Third Department issued a decision upholding the Women's Health and Wellness Act, finding that its "object to increase women's access to health care does not target religious practices." Catholic Charities appealed the decision to the New York State Court of Appeals. On June 10, 2006, RRP and RFP filed a third amicus brief urging the court to affirm the Appellate Division's decision upholding the Women's Health and Wellness Act.
On Oct. 19, 2006, the New York Court of Appeals also upheld the trial court's ruling. In siding with the defendants, the court found that the law was neutral and satisfied the constitutional standards that protect free exercise of religion.
After the Oct. 19, 2006, ruling a petition was filed for a certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The US Supreme Court denied the petition on Oct. 1, 2007.
Since 2002, NY law, which was confirmed acceptable by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007, requires insurance companies in New York to carry contraceptive coverage if they offer prescription coverage in their plan. The only exception to this law is for employers who operate churches, synagogues, and mosques. Hospitals, schools and universities, however, are not exempt from this mandated contraceptive insurance coverage.