Can a church be forced to pay for elective abortions even if it goes against its religious beliefs? Apparently, the state of California thinks so.
Back in 2014, a San Diego-area church discovered health insurance for its employees now included coverage for abortions for any reason. And they didn't even know abortion coverage had been added to their insurance policy.
Two months after the fact, Skyline Wesleyan Church located in the La Mesa suburb of San Diego, found that the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) had a new mandate - that churches must cover elective abortions in their health care policies, wiping out the existing accommodations for religious beliefs, regardless of what existing insurance plans included.
Further, their insurance carrier was told in a directive letter from the state, like this one to Aetna seen at the bottom of this linked page, that it didn't even have to alert the church about the change.
Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus with the Alliance Defending Freedom told CBN News, "It wasn't until the church reached out to its insurer that the church leadership team even knew about the changes."
That's not something that sat well with a church that believes life begins at conception and that abortion goes against the teachings of the Bible.
In a statement, Lisa Amann, one of the church's pastors, expressed that belief to CBN News, "As a Christian and pastor, my religious beliefs forbid me from paying for or facilitating access to elective abortions in any way, including through healthcare insurance. That's because the Bible is crystal clear about abortion and the sanctity of human life. Skyline Church, and all churches, should be free to peacefully live out their beliefs about the value of every human life. The government should respect such deeply held and foundational convictions, not force churches to violate them."
So how did a decades-long policy that had been interpreted to allow freedom for religious groups get turned on its head?
Galus says nobody knew how until he and his team filed a lawsuit and went through legal discovery. Come to find out the Department of Managed Health Care had been meeting months before with Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers discussing the change.
The abortionists were alarmed that a couple of Catholic colleges had removed abortion coverage from their insurance policies. The purpose of their collaboration with the state was to figure out how to stop others from doing the same. Making elective abortion part of basic health care insurance requirements appeared to be the answer.
Galus says the state of California knew that only religious organizations had insurance plans without that kind of coverage, making the state's focus of the new mandate quite clear. "It was a real targeting of people of faith," he says.
That's why Skyline Church went to court. After the lower court denied its request for relief, the church asked the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse that decision. And on November 4, 2019, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys argued the case in front of the Ninth Circuit.
Six long years after it began to fight back, this week Skyline Church got some good news.
On May 13th, the 9th Circuit Federal Appeals Court ruled in its favor, and held that the lower court was wrong to dismiss the church's claims. Galus says his team will now be able to argue the constitutionality of the state's mandate back in the lower court.
It's unknown yet whether the state will appeal the 9th Circuit's ruling. But one thing Galus is sure of – the legal principles involved in this case are of critical importance, something he hopes the lower court now will recognize.
"Churches should be able to operate according to their beliefs. And it's not just important for Skyline Church, but for churches all across the country."