Court rules California mandate requiring churches to pay for abortions is unconstitutional

(The Center Square) – A California mandate requiring churches to pay for elective abortions has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal district court.

The mandate came from the California Department of Managed Health Care, a regulatory body governing managed health care plans, and forced churches to include elective abortions within their health insurance plans.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, however, ruled that the mandate was unconstitutional, saying there was no presence of a substantial burden.

“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 said. “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 ruling comes four months after Alliance Defending Freedom, representing Foothill Church in Glendora and two other churches, filed a motion asking the court to allow churches to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs without the state mandating that they take part in actions that contradict those beliefs.

“The government can’t force a church or any other religious employer to violate their faith and conscience by participating in funding abortion,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus. “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 ruling comes two months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which the DMHC said contrasted with their belief that every individual has the right to affordable and accessible abortion.

“The Supreme Court’s decision counters our vision of a Healthy California for All, where health care is affordable, accessible, equitable and high-quality so it drives toward improved health outcomes,” DMHC said. “We remain committed to upholding and expanding protections that ensure the health and wellbeing of anyone seeking critical reproductive services. And we will protect reproductive health care rights by making sure health plans follow the law.”

ADF attorneys say they obtained emails from Planned Parenthood addressed to the DMHC where Planned Parenthood complained of health plans lacking abortion coverage.

“Thank you again for meeting with us and the ACLU last Thursday about the ongoing issue of DMHC approval of employee plans that exclude abortion coverage,” Brianna K. Pittman, a legislative advocate for Planned Parenthood, said in the obtained email. “As we mentioned in the meeting, this is of significant concern to Planned Parenthood and many of the reproductive rights groups that we work closely with.”

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