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NY Top Court Rejects Church Challenge to Abortion Coverage Law

  • NY Court rejects case against health insurance coverage. 

New York’s highest court ruled on Tuesday that from now on, employers’ health insurance packs need to automatically cover necessary abortions, rejecting a long-lasting lawsuit by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany stating that the law’s exemption for religious employers was way too restrictive.

The New York Court of Appeals decided that the rule, passed in 2017 by the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS), didn’t violate religious employers’ freedom, especially since both the rule and its religious exemption were totally neutral and generally applicable to all employers.

This 2017 rule was made into law by the state legislature in 2022, even if the law wasn’t challenged in the lawsuit. “We keep believing that the regulatory action by the state, but also the following legislative action that requires religious organizations to offer and pay for coverage of abortion in their employee health plans, is simply unconstitutional and unjust,”  Dennis Poust, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, declared in a statement.

He also added that the Diocese would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. “DFS’s actions assured that women in NY have full control over their reproductive choices. Furthermore, the insurers cover abortions and contraceptives with zero copayments, deductibles, or any out-of-pocket costs,” as DFS Superintendent Adrienne Harris declared in a statement.

The religious exemption in the rule refers to non-profit entities whose primary purpose is the “inculcation of religious values” and primarily serve people who share these religious beliefs.

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Photo by Gorodenkoff from Shutterstock

The Diocese also alleged that such exemptions were too narrow because they don’t include religious organizations with a broader purpose than simply inculcating religious values, like serving the poor, or that employed or served a large number of people who didn’t share the same religion. The Court of Appeals rejected the diocese’s challenge back in 2020, mentioning an earlier case focused on contraception coverage requirements with a similar religious exemption.

Moreover, in June 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Philadelphia couldn’t refuse to send foster children to a Catholic agency that turned away same-s*x couples as potential foster parents. Then, it ordered the New York court to reconsider the abortion coverage case in light of that ruling.

The court decided on Tuesday that the Supreme Court’s ruling didn’t change the outcome, mainly because it was only focused on the facts of that case and didn’t overturn the longstanding precedent that neutral and generally applicable laws could potentially restrict religious expression.

Republican-led states have continuously banned and restricted abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling, fully eliminating a nationwide right to abortion. Democratic states have now moved to safeguard and expand abortion access.

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