Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (USA), August 18,
Milwaukee Archdiocese reviews
birth control opinion
No plans in place to change
insurance policy after Lautenschlager's ruling
Madison -- The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese
is taking no action -- at least for now --
in response to state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager's
legal opinion that employers who provide prescription
drug insurance must cover contraceptives.
Kathleen Hohl, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese,
said Tuesday that lawyers were reviewing Lautenschlager's
opinion but that it had no immediate plans
to change the insurance coverage of 2,500 employees
in the central office and in parishes.
The archdiocese's insurance plan does not cover
contraception if it is used to prevent pregnancy,
though it will cover it to treat symptoms of
menopause, Hohl said.
Two other large, Milwaukee-based Catholic employers,
Marquette University and life insurer Catholic
Knights, said the attorney general's opinion
would have less impact on them because they
already provide contraceptive coverage.
But Marquette lawyers will review the opinion
because the school's drug plan does not cover
the so-called morning-after pill, spokesman
Ben Tracy said. Catholic Knights spokeswoman
Karren Jeske said she was not sure whether
its insurance covered the morning-after pill.
Lautenschlager issued her formal opinion Monday
in response to a request from state Secretary
of Health and Family Services Helene Nelson.
Denying coverage of contraceptives while providing
other prescriptions violates state and federal
anti-discrimination laws, Lautenschlager wrote
in the opinion.
The opinion matches the argument Lautenschlager
put forth last year in a letter to state Sen.
Gwendolynne Moore (D-Milwaukee), but by writing
a formal opinion she has issued a document
that can be cited in legal briefs. Although
opinions by attorneys general do not carry
the force of law, they are often given a great
deal of credence in the absence of Wisconsin
Lautenschlager said the decision includes the
morning-after pill, a high dose of birth control
medication taken in the 72 hours after unprotected
sex. Some abortion opponents consider the regimen
a form of abortion.
Susan Armacost, legislative director for Wisconsin
Right to Life, said abortion opponents believe
the opinion is a first step toward requiring
employers to provide not just contraceptives,
but RU-486, which chemically induces an abortion.
"We're concerned about the slippery slope,"
she said. "Mandating abortion -- that's
what we're afraid of."
Lautenschlager's office denied that, saying the
matter of RU-486, or mifepristone, fell outside
the scope of the attorney general's opinion.
"That's just a scare tactic," said
Lautenschlager aide Deirdre Morgan.
A boost to cases
Public employees who have filed civil rights
complaints against Marathon County and Green
Bay cheered the opinion, saying it would bolster
Last month, an administrative law judge ruled
that Green Bay must pay for prescription contraceptives
for police clerk Ann Anderson and other employees.
Anderson said she filed the complaint after
her purchase of contraceptives was denied by
her insurer, even though the insurer allows
$500 a year for preventive treatment.
"To me, I don't know where else preventative
care could be more cut and dried," she
Anderson had a daughter a couple of years ago
after an unplanned pregnancy.
"When you look at the cost of $30 a month
versus a birth, they cost themselves . . .
a ton of money," she said of the city.
Anderson filed the complaint on her own, but
the judge ruled that the city must provide
prescription contraceptives to all female employees
who ask for it, said Anderson's attorney, Danielle
The office of City Attorney Jerry Hanson did
not return phone calls Tuesday, but Carne said
city officials told her they have not decided
whether they would appeal.
Three Marathon County employees are looking to
the ruling in Anderson's case and Lautenschlager's
decision to boost their own civil rights cases
seeking payment of contraceptives.
Ann Marie Peters, a county nurse who has filed
one of the cases, said the county was not adequately
considering finances in its decision not to
"Their cost models aren't looking at pregnancies
they'll be preventing," Peters said.
Frank Matel, employee resources director for
the county, said the county estimated it would
cost $20,000 to $60,000 to provide the coverage.
The county employs about 740.
Lautenschlager's opinion would have little influence
on how the county proceeds, he said.
"I think we had a preview to that a year
ago, so it's not really a surprise," Matel
said, referring to Lautenschlager's earlier,
The county would prefer to resolve the matter
through collective bargaining, he said. But
Lon Newman of the Wausau-based Wisconsin Family
Planning and Reproductive Health Association
scoffed at that idea.
"Civil rights isn't bargainable," he
Newman's group helped put the employees in touch
with lawyers from the American Civil Liberties
Union of Wisconsin, which is heading the Marathon
<< Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -- 8/18/04
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