Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging a California mandate that requires insurance plans to cover abortion

A pro-life group is symbolically gagged during a vigil in front of the Supreme Court in Washington DC. | Wikimedia Commons/Ben Schumin

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by California churches to challenge a requirement for all insurance companies in the state to cover abortions.

The lawsuit, filed by Life Legal Defense Foundation (LLDF) and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of seven churches, alleged that the mandate violates the rights of faith-based employers, Christian News Network reported.

The directive, issued by the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) in 2014, reclassified abortion as a "basic health service" under the Affordable Care Act, and required all insurance plans in the state to being covering abortions immediately. The mandate did not appear to provide any way for religious organizations, including churches, to opt out or choose an alternative plan.

DMHC Director Michelle Rouillard wrote to seven insurance companies that refused to cover abortions, telling them that "all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally."

She contended that the companies must provide coverage for abortions because the "California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy."

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller dismissed the case, saying the plaintiffs "have not alleged sufficient facts to make it plausible that the director has selectively applied the law to target the plaintiffs' religious beliefs."

The judge argued that the churches had not proven that Rouillard would not accommodate their religious beliefs, pointing out that the DMHC director had granted an exemption to at least one organization.

The entity reportedly does not have an objection to abortion in the cases of rape or incest, while the churches believe that abortion is always wrong. But Mueller contended that the "exemption evinces, if anything, the director's 'intent to accommodate, rather than impose burdens on, religious belief.'"

The mandate is believed to be a result of the decision by two Roman Catholic/Jesuit universities — Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University — in California to stop paying for abortions of employees. Some faculty members reportedly objected to the decision and called on Gov. Jerry Brown to intervene.

The complaint filed by the ADF argued that the DMHC mandate forcing all health insurance plans to cover elective abortions violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The legal group also cited the federal Weldon amendment, which mandates that a state is forfeited of certain government funds if it forces health care entities to provide coverage for abortions.

The plaintiffs in the case were Skyline Church in La Mesa, Foothill Church and Foothill Christian School in Glendora, Alpine Christian Fellowship in El Cajon, The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, City View Church in San Diego, Faith Baptist Church in Santa Barbara, and Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino.

ADF Legal Counsel Jeremiah Galus said that the legal group is now consulting with its clients about their next move because the court ruling "ignores the longstanding freedom of faith communities to act consistently with their religious mission."

"Churches should be free to serve their communities according to their religious beliefs without unjust government edicts that force them to violate those beliefs. California has no right to dictate what pastors or churches believe on moral and cultural issues," he added.