California Ordered To Pay Churches $1.4M After Judges Strike Down Abortion Coverage Mandate

Emma Campbell | May 18, 2023
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California officials will pay $1.4 million to cover the legal fees of four churches that fought a state mandate requiring health insurance plans to cover abortion. 

Since 2015 and 2016, four churches have been engaged in two separate lawsuits against California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) over its 2014 mandate requiring that all health insurance plans cover abortions, whether medically necessary or elective. The churches argued the statue violated their religious freedom by requiring them to pay for something that violated their deeply-held faith.

This month, judges in the U.S. District Courts of the Eastern and Southern Districts of California ruled the mandate unconstitutional for both cases, saying it violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.  

In the first lawsuit stemming from 2015, three churches - Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, and Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch - were awarded $500,000 to cover legal fees. In the second lawsuit, resolved on May 11, Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa was awarded $900,000 for their legal fees. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a nonprofit legal group that specializes in cases of First Amendment freedoms, represented the churches in both cases.

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

Related: Report: Massive Medicaid Fraud Cost Arizonans Hundreds of Millions

During the trial, ADF attorneys revealed that the DMHC issued its mandate in response to pressure from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Emails used in the trials showed Planned Parenthood asking DMHC officials to “fix” health plans that did not include abortion coverage, while threatening to take legislative action if the DMHC failed to comply. Catholic organizations that had bowed out of providing abortion coverage for religious reasons were specifically singled out in the emails from Planned Parenthood as examples of what they hoped to change.

The mandate went against California precedent which recognized that religious groups shouldn’t be held to requirements that violate their beliefs.

“For years, California officials, in collaboration with Planned Parenthood, have unconstitutionally targeted faith-based organizations,” Galus said. “This is a significant victory for the churches we represent, the conscience rights of their members, and other religious organizations that shouldn’t be ordered by the government to violate some of their deepest faith convictions.”

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