Contraceptive Coverage Movement Continues in State Houses, Courts
Delaware and Rhode Island enacted measures on June 7 and July 8, respectively, requiring all state-regulated private-sector insurance plans that cover outpatient prescription drugs to cover the full range of prescription contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The two states join 11 others that have enacted similar laws in the past three years: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Vermont. Like many of the other states' laws, both new statutes allow religious employers to opt out of providing contraceptive benefits ("State Contraceptive Coverage Laws: Creative Responses to Questions of 'Conscience'," TGR, August 1999, page 1).
A contraceptive coverage mandate also was approved on July 11 by the Council of the District of Columbia. This measure passed without an exemption for religious employers, despite the vocal objections of the city's Catholic archdiocese. In an attempt to head off congressional action blocking the bill from going into effect, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) pledged to "pocket veto" it. The council is expected to rewrite the legislation with a religious exemption when it returns from recess in September.
On July 19, meanwhile, Planned Parenthood of Western Washington and Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of a Seattle woman whose employer, a chain of pharmacies, does not cover contraceptives under its employee health plan. The suit, the first of its kind, asserts that the company's policy constitutes employment-based gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act. Sixty organizations, led by the National Women's Law Center and including Planned Parenthood, urged the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June 1999 to issue a guidance supporting this same claim.