Ninth Circuit panel revives church’s lawsuit against Calif. requirement that church health plans cover abortion

Trump’s HHS weighs in on behalf of life and freedom of conscience

By Dave Andrusko

Hats off to Michael Gryboski for his encouraging post today.

On Wednesday, miracles of miracles, the once monolithically pro-abortion 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recognized the unmistakable. Mandating that church healthcare plans cover elective abortions can and does violate their free exercise of religion—in this instance, that of Skyline Wesleyan Church of La Mesa, California.

Writing for the Christian Post, Gryboski quoted from the unanimous opinion of a three-judge panel:

“We hold that Skyline has suffered an injury in fact,” the 9th Circuit wrote in its opinion. …Before the Letters [from the California Department of Managed Health Care] were sent, Skyline had insurance that excluded abortion coverage in a way that was consistent with its religious beliefs. After the Letters were sent, Skyline did not have that coverage, and it has presented evidence that its new coverage violated its religious beliefs. There is nothing hypothetical about the situation.”

The panel sent the case–Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care–back to the lower court for further proceedings.

In the letters, sent in 2014, the California Department of Managed Health Care

rescinded existing religious accommodations and mandated immediate coverage of all legal abortions, regardless of existing plan language. As a result, the church’s plan was rewritten to include coverage for elective abortion. The church filed suit after the department refused to back down from its novel application of the law.

Grybowski explained that “Previously, a district court had ruled against Skyline Wesleyan Church of La Mesa in its lawsuit over a state mandate on abortion coverage, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction and the issue remained hypothetical.” At that juncture, Skyline Wesleyan Church appealed to the 9th Circuit.

Tucked away in the stories about the decision was a reference to something very important, something that goes beyond one church: once again the federal government weighed in on the side of life and to protect freedom of conscience.

On January 24, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) made an important announcement.

Under the headline, “HHS Issues Notice of Violation to California for its Abortion Coverage Mandate,” we learn that “OCR is issuing a Notice of Violation to the state of California, formally notifying California that it cannot impose universal abortion coverage mandates on health insurance plans and issuers in violation of federal conscience laws.  California has deprived over 28,000 people of plans that did not cover elective abortion, but now must cover abortion due to California’s mandate.”

In that same notice, we read 

This is not the first time OCR has found California to be in violation of federal conscience statutes. In January 2019, OCR found that California violated the Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments when it subjected pregnancy resource centers in the state to potential fines and discrimination for refusing to post notices referring for free or low-cost abortions.

“Once again, President Trump’s administration is delivering on his promise to protect human life and all Americans’ freedom of conscience,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Under President Trump, HHS has been vigorously enforcing the statutes Congress passed to protect Americans’ consciences and institutionalizing these protections within the department’s civil rights work.”

“No one in America should be forced to pay for or cover other people’s abortions,” said Roger Severino, Director of OCR. “We are putting California on notice that it must stop forcing people of good will to subsidize the taking of human life, not only because it’s the moral thing to do, but because it’s the law.”