Friday, August 22, 2008

Article: Bush plan would blunt state birth control law

Full story here.

(08-20) 18:11 PDT WASHINGTON -- A proposed Bush administration regulation on contraception and abortion would stop California from enforcing a state law that requires Catholic hospitals and charities to provide birth control coverage for thousands of female employees, state Attorney General Jerry Brown and family-planning advocates said Wednesday.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department regulation, still in draft form, would define abortion as including certain methods of contraception and would prohibit states and other recipients of federal funds from penalizing health care workers who refused to provide those services because of religious or moral beliefs.

Violators would forfeit federal health care funds, which in California amount to as much as $37 billion a year.

The draft regulation describes the problem as laws such as those in California and New York that require employers to include contraceptives in any prescription drug coverage they offer to employees. The federal agency had no comment Wednesday on the proposal.

California's law was passed in 2000 in response to decisions by many health insurance plans to cover the male potency drug Viagra but continue to deny coverage for birth control pills, forcing women to pay for contraceptives.

The state Supreme Court upheld the law in a 2004 ruling that applied to 1,600 employees of Catholic Charities and 52,000 employees of Catholic hospitals in the state. The law exempts church employees, but the court said affiliated agencies such as Catholic Charities are secular institutions because they employ and serve mostly non-Catholics.

New York's highest court later issued a similar ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of Catholic Charities' appeals in both cases. Similar laws exist in 25 other states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization.

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