". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13

Commentary

California Churches Prevail in Court Battle over Mandatory Abortion Coverage

August 29, 2022

“Hope you are well. Thank you again for meeting with us last week, we were very pleased to hear about the actions that HHS is taking on this issue. I wanted to check in on HHS & DMHC progress, including where you are in the timeline to finding a solution in 4-6 weeks? Is there anything further that our folks can provide as far as legal analysis or documents? Would it be possible to set up a recurring call over the next couple of week for us to chat? I know we said that you and I would keep in touch on how things are going and the folks who participated in the meeting are getting anxious for word on the issue and will continue want updates as things progress.”

This may seem like yet another boring Washington Beltway email full of alphabet soup. But looks can be deceiving. That seemingly banal email is clear evidence of a troubling collaboration between a state government agency and strident abortion supporters. It also raises troubling questions about who is actually driving public policies directly affecting churches and other explicitly religious entities.

The above quote was an excerpt of an email uncovered during the discovery phase of a 2015 lawsuit filed by Alliance Defending Freedom. The lawsuit was filed by ADF on behalf of its California clients: Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, and Foothill Church in Glendora.

Who was the author of the email above, the one seemingly calling the shots? A legislative advocate working for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

And who is the other party in this email chain, the DMHC? The California Department of Managed Health Care.

Yes, you read that right. The state government and Planned Parenthood were literally plotting over email how to force churches to cover abortion procedures for women employed by churches. Planned Parenthood claims to speak for these women, but as Lisa Amann (of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego) once pointed out, Planned Parenthood obviously doesn’t speak for the female employees of these churches who are suing. (Skyline was involved in a separate lawsuit against the DMHC over the same issue. All four churches are ADF clients.)

This legal case began as Foothill Church, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, and Shepherd of the Hills Church v. Michelle Rouillard. Ms. Rouillard was the Director of DMHC at the time. Prior to formally filing the lawsuit, ADF hadfiled 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. Those came on the heels of a complaint filed directly with DMHC, which responded by affirming its decision to force all plans to cover all abortions without any explanation as to how that decision squares with the Constitution and contrasting federal law.”

But unsurprisingly, even after years of litigation, California and the DMHC were unwilling to budge on forcing churches and other religious entities to pay for abortion against their deeply held beliefs. So ADF filed the lawsuit against the DMHC.

As ADF senior counsel Jeremiah Galus pointed out at an earlier point in the lawsuit: “What’s bizarre… is that the same government that quite rightfully does not require California churches to pay for contraceptive coverage nonetheless requires them to pay for elective abortion coverage. We trust the court will allow the churches to proceed with challenging this obviously inconsistent and unconstitutional mandate.”

But gratefully, earlier this month, a federal court ruled in favor of what should have been obvious to the DMHC from the beginning: California’s mandate forcing churches to cover abortions is clearly unconstitutional.

While this may be the end of this particular case, you can be sure that California’s Governor Gavin Newsom (D) and his administration are hellbent on making death and abortion the mantra by which the state operates — a bill to codify a “right” to abortion has already gained strong support in the state. In addition, the governor “has proposed a $125 million Reproductive Health Package to expand access for women and help prepare for the influx of women seeking reproductive health care from other states… [he also] recently signed legislation eliminating copays for abortion care services and has signed into law a legislative package to further strengthen access and protect patients and providers.”

Despite a bleak life outlook in California, “nevertheless, [we must] persist” — in California and everywhere. So, readers of The Washington Stand, be sure to go out and vote this November — lives depend on it.

Alice Chao serves as communications manager at Family Research Council.