Union Pacific Case on Contraceptive Coverage Could Change the Rules Nationwide

| Mon Nov. 20, 2006 3:28 PM EST

Last week the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case against Union Pacific Railroad, which is being sued for failing to cover contraceptives in its health plans. In July 2005 a U.S. District court ruled in favor of the two women who filed the suit along with Planned Parenthood. The original ruling stating that Union Pacific, which employs about 49,000 workers nationwide, including 1,300 (that's 2.6% for those of you keeping track), illegally discriminates against female employees by not providing contraceptive coverage in its health plans.

The lower court went further, saying that Union Pacific's policy is in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discrimination based on gender or pregnancy. The policy was deemed discriminatory because it covered many preventive health medications -- including drugs for erectile dysfunction -- but not contraception.

The company has argued that it did not need to provide contraceptive coverage "because fertility is 'normal,'" and, therefore, birth control is not "medically necessary." Ah, and Viagra is sooo necessary.

Judge Pasco Bowman, who sits on the appeals court panel said Thursday that if the ruling holds it could mandate all companies to cover birth control in their plans.