Resolving lawsuits brought by four churches, two federal courts in California have ruled that the First Amendment protects the churches’ right to decline elective abortion coverage in their health insurance plans. Given the courts’ rulings in these multi-year lawsuits, state officials have agreed to pay $1,400,000 toward the churches’ attorneys’ fees.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Skyline Wesleyan Church, located in the San Diego area, in one federal lawsuit, and Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, and The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch in another. Both lawsuits challenged California’s abortion-coverage mandate. In both cases, the courts ruled that the U.S. Constitution protects the churches’ freedom to operate according to their religious beliefs, which include their belief in the sanctity of unborn lives.

“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 officials, in collaboration with Planned Parenthood, have unconstitutionally targeted faith-based organizations. This is a significant victory for the churches we represent, the conscience rights of their members, and other religious organizations that shouldn’t be ordered by the government to violate some of their deepest faith convictions.”

As revealed in e-mails that ADF attorneys discovered, the California Department of Managed Health Care issued its mandate in response to specific demands from Planned Parenthood. Those demands asked agency officials to implement a “fix” requiring the health plans of religious organizations to include coverage for abortion, regardless of moral or conscientious objections and despite state recognition up to that point that religious groups shouldn’t be subject to such requirements. The abortion giant threatened to promote its own legislative “solution” if the administrative agency didn’t act, so DMHC issued its mandate in 2014.

A year later, ADF attorneys filed the first case, Foothill Church v. Rouillard (now Watanabe), after submitting formal complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services against DMHC regarding California’s mandate and its violation of federal conscience law. In August 2022, a federal court ruled in favor of the three plaintiff churches, concluding that the California abortion-coverage mandate was unconstitutional.

ADF attorneys filed the second case, Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care, in 2016. In light of the court’s ruling in the Foothill Church case, state officials conceded that the abortion-coverage mandate also violated Skyline Church’s constitutional rights and agreed to a stipulated court order. The favorable outcomes in both the Skyline and Foothill Church cases resulted in the state of California paying $1,400,000 toward the churches’ attorneys’ fees.

Story from ADF.