Three churches went before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, arguing that California is unlawfully forcing them to provide insurance coverage for abortions.
Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, and The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch argued before the circuit court last Friday in San Francisco.
The churches are being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law firm that has successfully argued religious liberty cases before the United States Supreme Court.
ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus, who argued the case before the Ninth Circuit, said in a statement released in advance of oral arguments that the state “shouldn’t be forcing churches to pay for abortion.”
“We are asking the 9th Circuit to invalidate this unconstitutional mandate because California officials are required to follow the law and legal precedent, not the dictates of groups that have an axe to grind against religious organizations that don’t share their views on abortion,” said Galus.
In 2013, Loyola Marymount of Los Angeles and Santa Clara University dropped abortion coverage from their health insurance plans, to be in conformity with their Catholic beliefs.
In response, the California Department of Managed Health Care sent an official letter in August 2014 to Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente saying that insurance companies operating in the state could not restrict abortion coverage.
"The purpose of this letter is to remind plans that the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975 (Knox Keene Act) requires the provision of basic healthcare services," stated the DMHC.
"… [T]he California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy. Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally."
In response to the letter, Foothill Church, Calvary Chapel, and Shepherd filed a lawsuit in October 2015 against DMHC Director Michelle Rouillard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, Sacramento Division.
In March of last year, District Court Judge Kimberly J. Mueller ruled against the churches, arguing in part that they failed to show “discriminatory intent” by the state.
“… accepting as true plaintiffs' allegation that defendant knew only religious organizations would be affected does not, without more, make it plausible that her object was to target religious employers. Rather, plaintiffs must demonstrate more than ‘awareness of consequences,’” ruled Mueller.
“Plaintiffs must plausibly plead that defendant acted ‘because of, not merely in spite of’ the impact of her actions on religious entities … and they have not done so here.”