Alliance Defending Freedom Secures Victory for California Churches in Abortion Coverage Lawsuits

Two federal courts in California have ruled in favor of four churches, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, that challenged California’s abortion-coverage mandate, asserting that the First Amendment protects their right to decline elective abortion coverage from their health insurance plans because of their belief in the sanctity of life.

As part of the resolution of these multi-year lawsuits, state officials have agreed to pay $1,400,000 to cover the churches’ attorneys’ fees.

The two lawsuits, Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care, involving Skyline Wesleyan Church, located in the San Diego area, and  Foothill Church v. Rouillard (now Watanabe), involvingFoothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, and The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, contested California’s abortion-coverage mandate on constitutional grounds.

The lawsuits were filed against the Department of Managed Health Care and its director, Mary Watanabe.

Additionally, ADF submitted formal complaints to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, alleging a violation of religious liberty.

During the course of the case, attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom discovered emails that revealed the underlying motivations behind the Department of Managed Health Care’s mandate. These emails indicated that the mandate had been issued as a result of pressure exerted by Planned Parenthood in California and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The emails showed that the organizations had urged DMHC officials to enforce a “fix” that would compel health plans of religious organizations to provide coverage for abortion, disregarding any moral or conscientious objections and threatening to pursue their own legislative solution if the administrative agency did not comply. The state had previously acknowledged that religious groups should not be subjected to such requirements.

ADF attorneys initiated the first case, known as Foothill Church v. Rouillard (now Watanabe), following the submission of formal complaints to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regarding the violation of federal conscience law by the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) and its mandate. In August 2022, a federal court ruled in favor of the three churches involved, affirming that the California abortion-coverage mandate was unconstitutional.

Given the court’s ruling in the Foothill Church case, state officials acknowledged that the abortion-coverage mandate also infringed upon Skyline Church’s constitutional rights and agreed to a stipulated court order.

As a result of the favorable outcomes in both the Skyline and Foothill Church cases, the state of California was required to pay $1,400,000 toward the attorneys’ fees incurred by the churches.

ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus says the government can’t force a church or any other religious employer to violate its faith and conscience by participating in funding abortion. “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,” says Galus.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life.

The organization was created by a group of visionary Christian leaders with a mission to reverse the growing threat to religious freedom.

Alliance Defending Freedom Church Alliance and Alliance Defending Freedom Ministry Alliance are dedicated ministry arms of Alliance Defending Freedom, committed to helping churches and ministries defend their God-given freedoms and keeping the doors open for the gospel.

For more information about ADF’s work and current cases, visit Alliance Defending Freedom Media.

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