Federal appeals court hears arguments over California abortion mandate

By Matt Hadro

The flag of California. Credit: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 20, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on Friday in the case of California churches against the state’s abortion coverage mandate.

“This is an ongoing injury,” said Jeremiah Galus, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, on behalf of churches before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit.

Galus said that “each day that passes is another day that the churches are required to cover something that violates their sincerely-held religious beliefs.”

ADF is representing three Christian churches which challenged a California state mandate that they cover abortions in employee health plans. The churches are Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, and The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch.

The California Department of Managed Health Care in 2014 required employers to cover abortions in health plans.

According to ADF, internal emails between DMHC and Planned Parenthood reveal that the organization pushed the state to require abortion coverage by churches and religious groups. The state’s health department had initially not included religious groups in the abortion coverage mandate.

Karli Eisenberg, arguing for the state Nov. 20, claimed that the DMHC director “inadvertently approved plans” that include abortion coverage, but when she realized the discrepancy, “reminded those noncompliant plans of their obligation to comply with preexisting state law.” The state, she said, includes abortion coverage as part of basic health services.

Pro-life groups and the California Catholic Conference filed legal motions against the 2014 mandate, and appealed to the Obama administration under the Weldon Amendment, a 2005 law that bars federal funding of states and localities that force health care entities to provide abortions. The administration said that the law had not been violated.

In January, the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that the state had violated the law, and threatened to withhold federal funds to California unless the state stopped forcing groups to cover abortion against their conscientious beliefs. The Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit were one of two groups to file complaints with HHS.

In response, the state’s attorney general Xavier Becerra refused to comply with the federal demand.

On Friday, ADF argued that the abortion coverage mandate was “an unnecessary and unprecedented infringement on religious beliefs” that “warrants strict scrutiny.”

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