San Diego, CA

Court newly rules on religious freedom case: Says that insurance can now deny elective abortions under the 1st Amendment


Two federal courts in California have recently ruled in favor of several churches. Among them is Skyline Wesleyan Church, located in the San Diego area. The courts have decided churches can deny elective abortion coverage in their health insurance plans. This decision supports the First Amendment rights of these churches.

This is a significant win for religious employers. They may have previously been required to go against their beliefs and conscience by financing abortions. In response to these rulings, state officials have agreed to pay $1,400,000 toward the churches' attorneys' fees. However, the battle for protecting conscience rights continues.

Read below the complete Southern District of California District Court order for Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego.

Previous attempts at conscience protection

The Conscience Protection Act of 2016 was a legislative proposal. It aimed to reinforce existing conscience protection laws. It also sought to protect healthcare providers who disagree with participating in abortion procedures.

The act would also prohibit any governmental entity from penalizing healthcare providers, employers, or insurers due to their refusal to provide, participate in, pay for, or refer for abortion procedures or any other healthcare services related to abortion.

The proposed act would also allow those who have been discriminated against due to their refusal to participate in abortion procedures to seek legal recourse. The proposed act would ensure healthcare providers' rights. They could provide medical services without compromising their conscience or religious beliefs.

The bill died but was reintroduced as the Conscience Protection Act of 2021. Unfortunately, the reintroduced bill also died.

How the case made it to the courts

The California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) regulates most of the state's commercial health insurance market. It is responsible for determining what coverage insurers must provide.

In 2014, DMHC issued a directive informing seven insurers that their plans had to include abortion coverage. In 2015, one insurer was permitted to provide a plan to religious employers. This plan excluded abortion coverage, except in certain circumstances.

Read the full letter below.

Skyline Wesleyan Church shares the religious belief that abortion is impermissible. It is only possibly acceptable when the pregnant woman's life is at risk. In 2016, the church brought a lawsuit against the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC).

They argued that their right to the free exercise of religion was violated. In addition, DMHC had issued a directive that the church did not agree with. This directive related to a health insurance plan which did not comply with the church's religious beliefs on abortion.

The district court dismissed the case. However, the Court of Appeal disagreed. They stated that Skyline's claim under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause is justiciable. Therefore, the case was remanded (returned) to the district court for additional proceedings.

Watch the video below to hear Skyline's reasoning.

Continued efforts to advocate for Conscience Protection

House Republicans have recently proposed a bill, H.R. 279-118th Congress: Pharmacist Conscience Protection Act. Introduced in September 2022, this bill would ensure that pharmacists can refuse to provide customers with abortion-related drugs. They can do this if they have a moral or religious objection.

The Pharmacist Conscience Protection Act would protect pharmacists from facing punishment from the federal government. This punishment is for declining to provide medications that may result in abortion.

This bill was created in response to a suggestion from DMHC. The DMHC proposed that pharmacists could violate civil rights laws if they did not distribute certain drugs.

Do you think religious organizations should have the right to decline coverage for elective abortions in their health insurance plans? Why or why not?

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