Court rules California cannot force churches to cover elective abortion in employee healthcare plans

“The government can’t force a church or any other religious employer to violate their faith and conscience by participating in funding abortion,” ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus said

Updated: August 25, 2022 - 8:49pm

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California cannot force religious institutions to include elective abortion coverage in their employee healthcare plans, a federal court ruled on Thursday.

Three California churches in April filed a motion challenging a 2014 California mandate requiring religious institutions to cover the procedure. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represented 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 Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) mandate.

Emails ADF obtained revealed that the DMHC imposed the mandate at the urging of Planned Parenthood, one of the nation's most prominent abortion providers.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Sacramento Division, found in favor of the churches, ruling that the mandate violated the First Amendment by forcing religious institutions to act against their convictions.

“In sum, the Director 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 court wrote. “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.”

“The government can’t force a church or any other religious employer to violate their faith and conscience by participating in funding abortion,” ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus said in a press release. “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.”

The court did favor the DMHC over the church's claims of discrimination, saying "[t]he Churches have not alleged facts or produced evidence showing defendant acted with discriminatory intent." It instead, however, noted that the court could rule in favor of the churches by merit of their First Amendment rights anyway, writing "[t]he court can also grant the Churches appropriate relief solely on the basis of their free exercise claim."

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