PASADENA – On Monday, attorneys with the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom will present oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in a lawsuit against the California Department of Managed Health Care for forcing churches to pay for elective abortions in their health insurance plans.
The department rescinded existing religious accommodations and mandated immediate coverage of all legal abortions, regardless of existing plan language, in 2014. As a result, the church’s plan was rewritten to include coverage for elective abortion. The church filed suit after the department refused to back down from its novel application of the law.
“Churches should be free to follow their deepest convictions without unlawful, unjust government mandates,” said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus, who will argue before the court Monday. “The Department of Managed Health Care is misguided in its attempts to force a church to pay for elective abortions. The agency has unconstitutionally targeted religious organizations, repeatedly collaborated with pro-abortion advocates, and failed to follow the appropriate administrative procedures to institute this unprecedented mandate.”
According to ADF, Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa believes it has a religious obligation to care for its employees, and, because of that belief, it offers them a generous health insurance plan. Skyline also believes that all life is valuable and deserving of protection and that abortion is incompatible with that belief. The church only employs people who share its beliefs.
According to the church’s brief filed with the court, “[t]he Church previously could—and did—purchase an employee health care plan that excluded elective abortion coverage consistent with its religious beliefs.” However, in August 2014, the department sent a letter to insurers ordering immediate coverage of elective abortions and advising them that they could omit any reference to abortion coverage in plan documents, effectively obscuring the new abortion coverage mandate from churches.
After ADF attorneys filed a complaint against the department, a California district court denied the church’s request for relief. The church then appealed to the 9th Circuit and is asking it reverse the district court ruling.
“Churches have the freedom to set internal policies in alignment with biblical teachings about the importance of life, from conception to natural death,” said ADF Legal Counsel Denise Harle, who will also be available to the media following Monday’s hearing. “The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently affirmed the right of churches to conduct their own internal affairs consistently with their faith. And it has long held that government hostility toward people of faith is unconstitutional and has no place in our society.”