California Protects Reproductive Health Decisions, Expands Contraception Coverage Requirements

Author: Emily Scace, XpertHR Legal Editor

October 11, 2022

In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization earlier this year overruling the federal right to abortion first established in Roe v. Wade, a new California law will outlaw discrimination based on a person's reproductive health decisions and expand requirements for contraceptive and family planning coverage for group health plans.

"We're doing everything we can to protect people from any retaliation for accessing abortion care while also making it more affordable to get contraceptives," said California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a statement announcing the signing of S.B. 523 and a number of other bills related to reproductive health.

Discrimination Protections

Effective January 1, 2023, reproductive health decision-making will be added to the list of protected characteristics under the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) that may not be the basis of discrimination, harassment or retaliation. In addition, an employer may not require an applicant or employee to disclose information relating to reproductive health decision-making as a condition of employment or to receive an employment benefit.

The law defines reproductive health decision-making as a decision to use or access a particular drug, device, product or medical service for reproductive health.

Health Plan Coverage

The law also expands requirements for group health plans - including those offered by employers - to provide coverage without cost sharing for a variety of contraceptive and family planning methods, including:

  • Over-the counter contraceptives;
  • Voluntary tubal ligation; and
  • Vasectomy.

The changes take effect in 2024.

While the federal Affordable Care Act requires group health plans to cover contraception and contraceptive counseling without cost sharing as a form of preventive care, California's law goes further and codifies the protections under state law in the event that the federal mandates are modified or struck down as the result of a court decision.

The contraceptive coverage requirements have already been the subject of numerous legal challenges, including in the Supreme Court, and a federal district judge in Texas recently held that the ACA's entire scheme of mandating preventive care coverage is unconstitutional, though the decision is likely to be appealed.

Religious employers can request to exclude contraceptive methods and procedures that are contrary to their religious tenets from a health plan. However, if the method or procedure is used for a purpose other than contraception, the religious exclusion does not apply.