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California forces churches to cover abortion, church sues

ADF files lawsuit in state court on behalf of San Diego–area congregation

Friday, Feb 5, 2016

Attorney sound bites:  Erik Stanley | Jeremiah Galus

SAN DIEGO – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit in state court Thursday against the California Department of Managed Health Care for forcing churches to pay for elective abortions in their health insurance plans. ADF attorneys represent a San Diego–area church in the state suit, which is similar to a lawsuit ADF filed in federal court in October of last year on behalf of three other California churches.

“Churches should not be forced to pay for the killing of innocent human life,” said ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley. “The government has no right to demand that church health insurance plans include coverage for elective abortions – something that violates the most sincerely held religious beliefs of this church and nearly all churches throughout the state. California is violating its own laws and constitution, as well as the U.S. Constitution, by strong-arming churches into having this coverage in their plans.”

ADF filed the lawsuit, Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care, in the California Superior Court for the County of San Diego on behalf of Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa. It cites violations of the church’s rights and freedoms under state’s Administrative Procedures Act and both the federal and state constitutions.

In 2014, ADF and Life Legal Defense Foundation filed formal complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services against DMHC regarding California’s mandate and its violation of federal conscience law. Those came on the heels of a complaint filed directly with DMHC, which responded by affirming its decision to force all plans to cover all abortions without any explanation as to how that decision squared with state and federal law.

“California forced abortion coverage into churches’ health insurance plans without their knowledge or approval,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremiah Galus. “Because Obamacare requires employers to provide health insurance coverage, the California mandate has left churches with no way to opt out of paying for abortions. Californians should not be forced to choose between following their deepest convictions and submitting to unlawful and unnecessary government mandates.”

The ADF complaint explains that DMHC based its mandate on a requirement in state law “that employer health plans cover ‘basic health care services.’ Until the Mandate, however, the DMHC had not interpreted ‘basic health care services’ to include voluntary and elective abortions. In fact, existing law and regulations define ‘basic health care services’ to include services only ‘where medically necessary….’”

Although DMHC and its director “knew that employers like Skyline Church have sincerely held religious beliefs against paying for or facilitating abortions,” the complaint continues, the two “Defendants nevertheless required that any group health insurance plan sold to them cover abortions, including voluntary and elective ones. Thus, by issuing the Mandate, Defendants caused Skyline’s group health plan to include coverage for voluntary and elective abortions without its knowledge and in violation of its religious beliefs.”

Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund attorney Charles LiMandri, one of more than 3,000 private attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case on behalf of the church.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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