A California district court ruled Thursday that a state law mandating companies, including religious organizations, pay for elective abortions as part of their health insurance plans is unconstitutional.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California sided with three California churches — Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, and the Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch — in their challenge to the state’s Knox Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975.
The court ruled against the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), which sent letters in 2014 to seven private health insurers “directing them to remove any limitations on or exclusions of abortion care services from the health care coverage they offered to various employers,” which included the three plaintiffs.
Since the churches each employ more than 50 full-time employees, they must provide health insurance to their employees under the state law.
DMHC sent the letters after Planned Parenthood asked the state to “fix” such exemptions “to ensure that employers cannot deny women coverage of abortion services,” according to emails shared by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit legal organization for protecting religious freedoms that represented the churches, filed a motion in April asking the court to “definitively rule in their favor and allow the churches to operate according to their religious beliefs, which uphold the sanctity of unborn lives.”
Jeremiah Galus, the nonprofit’s senior counsel, said that the government could not force churches or any other employers in religious organizations to fund abortions, which would violate their faith and conscience.
“For years, California has unconstitutionally targeted faith-based organizations, so we’re pleased the court has found this mandate unconstitutional and will allow the churches we represent to operate freely according to their religious beliefs,” Galus said.
“Elective abortions are not part of ‘basic health care,’” Galus added. “They have no business being forced into the medical coverage provided by churches that do not wish to support terminating lives due to very real, sincere, and well-known faith convictions.”
Chief Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, appointed by former President Barack Obama, summarized in her opinion for the court that Mary Watanabe, the director of the DMHC, “has not shown ‘[she] lacks other means of achieving [her] desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion by [plaintiffs].’”
“The Director’s denial of the Churches’ request for exceptions to accommodate their religious beliefs, based solely on the fact that those requests did not originate with a plan, was not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest,” Mueller added.
California lawmakers are poised to improve “reproductive health care in the state,” following the landmark ruling by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Cal Matter reports that Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) and legislators pledged more than $200 million towards “reproductive health care,” with most insurance plans in the state required to eliminate out-of-pocket fees for abortion services next year and redirect the money to pay for primarily uninsured Californians and out-of-state residents.