California sued by church for forcing it to provide abortions under health insurance in violation of its religious beliefs

Activists hold signs as they rally against abortion outside City Hall in Los Angeles, California, on Sept. 29, 2015.Reuters

A church in San Diego, California has filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Managed Health Care for forcing it to provide abortions through its health insurance plans.

The Skyline Wesleyan Church, through the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), is asking the court to declare illegal the department's mandate to require all health insurance plans to provide voluntary and elective abortions.

The church said the enforcement of the abortion services mandate is a violation of its rights and freedoms under the state's Administrative Procedures Act and both the federal and state constitutions, according to ADF.

"Churches should not be forced to pay for the killing of innocent human life," said Erik Stanley, ADF senior counsel. "The government has no right to demand that church health insurance plans include coverage for elective abortions – something that violates the most sincerely held religious beliefs of this church and nearly all churches throughout the state."

He accused California of "violating its own laws and constitution, as well as the U.S. Constitution, by strong-arming churches into having this coverage in their plans."

In its letter to health insurance providers, the California department said the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975 requires the provision of basic health care services and the California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.

"Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally," it said, according to WND.

In 2014, ADF and Life Legal Defense Foundation filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services against DMHC regarding California's mandate and its violation of federal conscience law.

"California forced abortion coverage into churches' health insurance plans without their knowledge or approval," said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremiah Galus.

He said "because Obamacare requires employers to provide health insurance coverage, the California mandate has left churches with no way to opt out of paying for abortions."

DMHC based its mandate on the state law requirement that "that employer health plans cover 'basic health care services.'

Until the mandate, however, the DMHC had not interpreted 'basic health care services' to include voluntary and elective abortions.

Existing law and regulations define "basic health care services" to include services only "where medically necessary," the ADF said.

Although DMHC and its director "knew that employers like Skyline Church have sincerely held religious beliefs against paying for or facilitating abortions," according to the complaint, the two "defendants nevertheless required that any group health insurance plan sold to them cover abortions, including voluntary and elective ones. Thus, by issuing the mandate, defendants caused Skyline's group health plan to include coverage for voluntary and elective abortions without its knowledge and in violation of its religious beliefs."