9th Circuit Court of Appeals Rules that CA Church Suffered Harm from Being Forced to Cover Elective Abortions in Healthcare Plans

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On Wednesday, a San Diego-area church received a big win for religious freedom when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that Skyline Church in La Mesa did indeed suffer harm when the state of California in August of 2014 issued letters mandating that church healthcare plans include coverage for elective abortions.

In the August 2014 letters, the California Department of Managed Health Care attacked existing religious accommodations for churches and nonprofits with sincerely held religious convictions against paying for abortions or abortion inducing drugs via the organization’s healthcare plans. The letters demanded that all organziations provide immediate coverage for abortion.

Skyline Church filed a law suit, Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care, but the district court denied the church’s request for relief. The church then appealed to the 9th Circuit.

“Churches should be free to follow their beliefs without unlawful, unjust government mandates,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus, who argued before the 9th Circuit on behalf of the church. “The Department of Managed Health Care shouldn’t be forcing churches 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 implement its abortion-coverage requirement. The 9th Circuit rightly recognized the harm that the state has inflicted on Skyline Church in subjecting it to this unprecedented mandate.”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Galus. “We hold that Skyline has suffered an injury in fact,” the 9th Circuit wrote in its opinion. “Before the Letters were sent, Skyline had insurance that excluded abortion coverage in a way that was consistent with its religious beliefs. After the Letters were sent, Skyline did not have that coverage, and it has presented evidence that its new coverage violated its religious beliefs. There is nothing hypothetical about the situation.”

In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Civil Rights agreed that the mandate from the California Department of Managed Health Care violated federal law. 

Like many other religious organizations, nonprofits, and churches, Skyline Church of La Mesa has a moral objection to offering contraceptives and abortion coverage to their employees. The state forcing them to do so despite the fact that doing so violates the church’s sincerely held religious beliefs is wrong, and is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

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