ALBANY, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - An appellate court is forcing the Catholic diocese of Albany to pay for abortions obtained by its employees.
A state appeals court in Albany on Thursday ruled 5–0 to strike down a challenge by the diocese, forcing it to include abortion coverage in its insurance policy. The ruling, which upheld a 2019 decision by the state Supreme Court, stated:
In essence, (the diocese's) position boils down to the argument that, based upon their religious beliefs, there is a fundamental difference between prescribing contraceptives and performing an abortion procedure. The crux of (the state's) argument is that there is no substantive difference between an abortion and any other medically necessary procedure. Neither argument proves particularly satisfying.
Appellate Justice John Colangelo, who drafted the ruling, claimed the position of the diocese amounted to a "distinction without a legal difference, in addition to the fact that it would require this court to enter the thicket of making a religious value judgment."
New York Supreme Court Justice Richard McNally had highlighted a 2006 Court of Appeals ruling that affirmed the Women's Health and Wellness Act of 2002 — a law requiring insurers to cover the cost of doctor-prescribed contraception. Catholic Charities of the Albany diocese tried to get a temporary injunction to stop that law, but was unsuccessful.
The diocese argued on appeal that a more recent regulation mandating abortion coverage is "more morally and religiously offensive to them" than the 2002 law. The diocese lost its appeals challenge to a 2017 New York regulation signed by the state's Gov. Andrew Cuomo that mandates health insurance providers cover the cost of contraceptive drugs and "medically necessary" abortion.
Following the 2017 mandate, the diocese argued the mandate has "moral and religious freedom issues." In 2019, the Albany diocese and other pro-life groups sued the state Division of Financial Services (DFS), along with its former acting superintendent and insurance companies. They lost but quickly appealed. That appeal was struck down Thursday. The court ruled insurance providers that cover surgical, hospital and medical expenses must also pay for abortions that are deemed medically necessary.
Before Thursday's appellate ruling, Bp. Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany lamented the court's attack on human life and religious liberty.
"These coercive mandates are an attack on innocent human life, but also an attack on religious liberty and the democratic process itself," emphasized Scharfenberger. "Whatever its motivations, the Cuomo administration has shown a troubling disregard for religious faith and practice and the rights of conscience of our state's citizens."
Scharfenberger's concern for religious liberty was also found in the 2019 appeal by the diocese. It then argued the state's regulation was contrary to First Amendment protections for freedom of religion, speech, expression, the equal protection clause of the state and U.S. constitutions and certain separation of powers doctrines.
In his ruling on Thursday, Colangelo commented that the state's position, "ignores the twin realities that the contrary view is held with deep religious fervency and that this particular 'medically necessary' procedure has been among the most divisive issues in our politics for several decades, despite the effort of the Supreme Court of the United States to put it to rest over 47 years ago."
He noted, however, "The ultimate resolution of this issue may well lie in another arena, outside of our judicial purview."
Mary DeTurris Poust, director of communications for the Albany diocese, told LifeSite that the diocese is not happy with the ruling.
"We strongly disagree with the court's decision," remarked Poust. "This case involves profound constitutional, moral and religious freedom issues and will be addressed on appeal."
Cuomo, who claims to be Catholic, codified into law last year the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), giving women the legal right to kill their child up to the moment of birth. His signing this bill moved some church leaders to call for Cuomo's excommunication.
The Catholic Church teaches that contraception and abortion are anti-life acts that are intrinsically evil, meaning they can never be chosen or supported under any circumstance. The bishops of New York released a joint statement that expressed their "sorrow" that so-called Catholic Cuomo signed such an anti-life bill into law.