9th Circuit rules in favor of church forced to pay for abortion, returns case to district court
PASADENA, Calif. – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday that a San Diego–area church properly challenged the state’s abortion-coverage mandate and that a lower district court was wrong to dismiss the church’s claims. The 9th Circuit recognized that Skyline Church suffered an injury when the state issued its August 2014 letters mandating that church healthcare plans cover elective abortions.
In those letters, the California Department of Managed Health Care rescinded existing religious accommodations and mandated immediate coverage of all legal abortions, regardless of existing plan language. As a result, the church’s plan was rewritten to include coverage for elective abortion. The church filed suit after the department refused to back down from its novel application of the law.
“Churches should be free to follow their beliefs without unlawful, unjust government mandates,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus, who argued before the 9th Circuit on behalf of the church. “The Department of Managed Health Care shouldn’t be forcing churches to pay for elective abortions. The agency has unconstitutionally targeted religious organizations, repeatedly collaborated with pro-abortion advocates, and failed to follow the appropriate administrative procedures to implement its abortion-coverage requirement. The 9th Circuit rightly recognized the harm that the state has inflicted on Skyline Church in subjecting it to this unprecedented mandate.”
“We hold that Skyline has suffered an injury in fact,” the 9th Circuit wrote in its opinion. “Before the Letters were sent, Skyline had insurance that excluded abortion coverage in a way that was consistent with its religious beliefs. After the Letters were sent, Skyline did not have that coverage, and it has presented evidence that its new coverage violated its religious beliefs. There is nothing hypothetical about the situation.”
Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa believes it has a religious obligation to care for its employees, and, because of that belief, it offers them a generous health insurance plan. Skyline also believes that all life is valuable and deserving of protection and that abortion is incompatible with that belief. The church only employs people who share its beliefs.
After ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care, the district court denied the church’s request for relief. The church then appealed to the 9th Circuit.
In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights issued its determination that the mandate violates federal law.
Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund attorney Charles LiMandri, one of more than 3,100 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case on behalf of the church.
- Pronunciation guide: Galus (GAL’-us), LiMandri (Luh-MAN’-dree)
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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