News Law and Policy

California Conservatives Keep Fighting Insurance Coverage for Abortions

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Lawyers have filed a second legal challenge to a California requirement that all insurance plans in the state provide coverage for abortion care.

Attorneys from the conservative legal advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) this month filed a lawsuit in California state court charging that the state’s health department is unlawfully forcing churches to pay for elective abortion coverage in health insurance plans.

ADF filed the lawsuit on behalf of Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa. Skyline Wesleyan’s pastor, Jim Garlow, is a prominent conservative activist and was involved in the fight to pass Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriages that was later overturned, which helped pave the way for marriage equality nationwide.

As alleged in the complaint, the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), and its director, Michelle Rouillard, issued a mandate in August 2014 requiring group health insurance plans issued in California to “provide coverage for all legal abortions, including voluntary and elective ones.”

DMHC based this requirement on its interpretation of the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975, a California law that requires employer health plans cover “basic health-care services.”

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The plaintiffs allege that DMHC’s interpretation of the law violates both the California and U.S. Constitution, as well as the Weldon Amendment, which prohibits states that receive federal family planning funding from discriminating against health-care plans based on whether they cover abortion care.

The lawsuit is nearly identical to one ADF filed in federal court in October on behalf of three other California churches. The court is considering a request by attorneys for the state of California to dismiss that lawsuit.

Skyline Wesleyan’s lawsuit is the latest volley by conservatives challenging abortion coverage in the state. In 2014, ADF and Life Legal Defense Foundation filed formal complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services against DMHC, challenging the coverage requirement. Those complaints followed a complaint filed directly with DMHC.

“Churches should not be forced to pay for the killing of innocent human life,” Erik Stanley, ADF senior counsel, said in a statement when the lawsuit was filed. “The government has no right to demand that church health insurance plans include coverage for elective abortions.”

DMHC and Rouillard have not yet responded to this latest lawsuit.

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