Attorneys appeal court mandate requiring church to pay for abortions

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Attorneys representing a San Diego-area church filed their opening brief on appeal Friday in a lawsuit against the California Department of Managed Health Care for forcing churches to pay for elective abortions in their health insurance plans.

In 2014, the Department rescinded existing religious accommodations and mandated immediate coverage of all legal abortions, regardless of existing plan language. As a result, the church filed a complaint, Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care.

“Churches should be free to follow their deepest convictions without unlawful, unjust government mandates,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel, Jeremiah Galus.

“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 mandate on a limited number of Californians,” said Galus.

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 abortion is incompatible with biblical teaching and employs people who believe the same thing.

According to the brief, “[t]he Church previously could—and did—purchase an employee health care plan that excluded elective abortion coverage consistent with it religious beliefs.” However, on August 22, 2014 the Department “summarily announced to insurers that it was now illegal for them to exclude or limit abortion coverage in their health care plans.”

After the church filed a complaint against the Department, a California district court denied the church’s request for relief. The church then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and are asking it reverse the district court ruling. According to the brief, 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.

“Government is supposed to be freedom’s greatest protector, not its greatest threat,” said ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries.

“Sadly, California’s Department of Managed Health Care has repeatedly refused to interpret and apply state law in a manner that protects freedom of conscience. Instead, the Department has used underground regulation to compel churches to pay for abortion. That’s why we are asking the 9th Circuit to reverse the district court’s decision,” said Stanley.

— CNJ staff report

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