Can Churches Be Forced to Pay for Abortions? US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Hears Case Next Monday

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PASADENA – A San Diego area church is seeking relief from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals next Monday, after being told by a state agency and a district court that insurance coverage for its employees must include elective abortions. Skyline Wesleyan Church filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) back in 2014 after the agency rescinded existing religious accommodations and mandated immediate coverage of all legal abortions, regardless of existing plan language.

“Churches, synagogues, mosques, and faith-based organizations should be free to purchase health care consistent with their deeply held religious beliefs,” said California Family Council President Jonathan Keller. “As head of a Christian ministry, my employees and I have been forced to forfeit health insurance since this decision by the DMHC. It is appalling that California demands my employees choose between not being insured and paying for elective surgical abortions. We have lost our First Amendment right to the ‘free exercise of religion’ if the state can compel us to violate our beliefs like this.”

According to a statement released on behalf of Skyline, the church offers its employees a generous health insurance plan because of its “religious obligation to care for its employees.” 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 DMHC 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 Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a complaint against the department on behalf of Skyline, a California district court denied the church’s request for relief. The church then appealed to the 9th Circuit and is asking it to reverse the district court ruling.

“Churches should be free to follow their deepest convictions without unlawful, unjust government mandates,” said 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.”

More information about the case and hearing from ADF attorneys…

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