WASHINGTON – Churches in California are deliberating their next move after a federal court ruled Friday that they must – no exceptions – pay for what they consider sin.
It’s the abortion payment funding requirement in their health insurance plans.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit legal organization dedicated to “advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family,” warned in a statement that its battle with the courts on behalf of the churches for religious freedom is far from over.
“If the state can force a church to pay for the very thing they counsel against, in violation of their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, then no American is secure. Because the court’s decision ignores the longstanding freedom of faith communities to act consistently with their religious mission, we are consulting with our clients about next steps,” Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Jeremiah Galus said.
Galus repudiated the court ruling to dismiss a the case brought by the congregations, characterizing the state mandate requiring churches to cover abortions as a direct assault on people of faith.
“Churches should be free to serve their communities according to their religious beliefs without unjust government edicts that force them to violate those beliefs. California has no right to dictate what pastors or churches believe on moral and cultural issues,” Galus said in a statement. “Yet, with the stroke of a pen – and without consulting the public – the state mandated that churches must pay for the taking of innocent human life.”
Churches and other religious organizations have been battling the state over its onerous abortion mandate for years.
The conflict began in California in 2014 when the California Department of Managed Health Care reclassified abortion as a “basic health service” under the Affordable Care Act and ordered all insurance plans in the state to begin covering abortions immediately.
The state said failing to cover “voluntary” or “elective” abortions, or limiting coverage only to “medically necessary” abortions, violated state law, the state constitution and the state’s health and safety codes.
Health plans in California are prohibited from “discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy. Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” the letter states.
But churches in California refused to acquiesce to the law.
Employers at Foothill Church, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills and Shepherd of the Hills Church, all of which are nonprofit Christian churches, filed suit in 2015 against DMHC Director Michelle Rouillard.
In their lawsuit, Foothill Church v. Rouillard, ADF alleges the abortion mandate forcing all health insurance plans to cover elective abortions violates 1st and 14th Amendment rights.
ADF also called on the then-current Obama administration to stop California by upholding the Weldon Amendment, a protection against state-imposed abortion mandates. However, the HHS Office of Civil Rights in 2016 said it found no violation and closed its investigation of the complaints without further action.
OCR’s decision was based on a flawed reading of the Weldon amendment, Life News reported.
“They argue that the Weldon amendment only protects health insurance plans, and not the purchasers of such plans, and state that the insurance companies have not complained,” Steven Ertelt of Life News wrote. “To say that a previously existing plan that excluded abortion must be discontinued is discriminatory against the life-affirming abortion-free plan. Whether the insurance company objects or not, the mandate is discriminatory.
“The Weldon amendment is not limited to religious or moral objections. It is not even based on an objection being raised. It simply states no funds may be made available to a government that subjects a health care entity (health plan in this case) to discrimination on the basis that the entity “does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortion.”