Federal Court Rules Against California Mandate Forcing Churches To Pay For Abortions

A federal court in California ruled this week that the state’s rule compelling churches to pay for elective abortions as part of their employee health insurance plans is unconstitutional.

Many churches in the Golden State have been fighting against the abortion funding rule for several years. The mandate began in 2014 when the California Department of Managed Health Care decided that abortion should be classified as a “basic health service” as defined by the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

As a result of the classification, the state required every employer to provide coverage for elective abortions in health insurance plans offered to employees. That mandate included every church in the state.

Years of litigation led to the order entered in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento by District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on Thursday. Judge Mueller was appointed to the court in 2010 by President Obama.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) public interest law firm represents a group of California churches and filed a motion before the court in April that asked for a final ruling that would allow the plaintiff churches to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs.

ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus said that the ruling establishes that the state government “can’t force a church or any other religious employer to violate their faith and conscience by participating in funding abortion.” He added that California has been unconstitutionally targeting faith-based organizations for years.

The court’s order stated that the state has failed to show that it can achieve its “desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion” by the plaintiff churches. The rule that denied any exemptions based on religious beliefs was found to be overly broad and an unlawful infringement on First Amendment religious freedom.

The ADF introduced evidence in court that the state department had issued the abortion payment mandate in response to specific demands made by Planned Parenthood. The abortion giant demanded that the state implement the mandate without regard to any religious or moral objections. Even though the demands made by Planned Parenthood conflicted with established California law at the time, the state went along.

The court has directed the parties to file additional briefs within 30 days in anticipation of a final order setting out the legal remedies the churches are entitled to receive as a result of the constitutional violation.