Forcing Churches To Pay for Abortions Is Unconstitutional, California Federal Court Rules

Gavin Newsom (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
August 26, 2022

A federal district court in California ruled Thursday that a state law requiring churches to pay for elective abortions in their health insurance plans is unconstitutional.

Three California churches, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, in 2015 challenged the constitutionality of California's Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975, which mandates that companies—including churches and other religious organizations—include coverage for elective abortions in their employee group health plans. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on Thursday sided with the churches, stating that Mary Watanabe, the director of the California Department of Managed Health Care, "has not shown '[she] lacks other means of achieving [her] desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion by [plaintiffs].'"

"The director's denial of the churches' request for exceptions to accommodate their religious beliefs, based solely on the fact that those requests did not originate with a plan, was not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest," the court wrote.

The managed health care department's decision to include religious organizations in the mandate came in 2014, following pressure from Planned Parenthood to "fix" the policy's religious exemptions "to ensure that employers cannot deny women coverage of abortion services," according to emails discovered by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys. The Trump administration in 2020 withheld $200 million in Medicaid funding from California because the mandate violated federal conscience laws.

"For years, California has unconstitutionally targeted faith-based organizations, so we're pleased the court has found this mandate unconstitutional and will allow the churches we represent to operate freely according to their religious beliefs," Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Jeremiah Galus said.