Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, located in Chino, is one of three churches to file an appeal of its lawsuit challenging the California Department of Managed Health Care’s mandate that health insurance plans cover abortion.
The church filed the appeal April 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, along with Foothill Church in Glendora and The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch.
They are being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom on a pro bono basis, a Christian law firm based in Arizona that defends religious freedom, sanctity of life issues, marriage, and the family.
The firm brought the lawsuit against the Department on behalf of the churches in 2015 but lost the case in lower court on March 7 of this year.
A spokesperson for Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, 4201 Eucalyptus Ave., referred all questions to Alliance Defending Freedom.
Jeremiah Galus, legal counsel with the firm, said the lawsuit was filed after the Department issued a letter in 2014 to seven health insurance companies directing them to immediately begin providing coverage for elective abortions.
Mr. Galus said the 2014 letter was written after Catholic universities Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and Santa Clara University dropped abortion coverage from their health insurance plans in 2013, in conformity with their religious beliefs.
Upon learning of the universities’ decision, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California began arranging meetings with the Department, requesting that all group health plans, including those offered exclusively to religious institutions, cover elective abortions, Mr. Galus said.
Planned Parenthood provided legal analysis, a draft bill, written arguments, and lobbied the California Governor’s Office and California Health and Human Services.
They were joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of California and the National Health Law Program.
Mr. Galus said he learned about the lobbying efforts through the discovery process after filing a complaint in 2015 and finding numerous emails between the state and Planned Parenthood, which he made public in the lawsuit.
Mr. Galus said the emails revealed that unelected officials at the Department “bent over backwards to please Planned Parenthood,” forcing churches to violate their deeply held beliefs about the sanctity of life.
When asked to comment about Mr. Galus’ statement, a Department spokesperson said the Department of Managed Health Care applies the requirements of the law.
“California law and multiple California judicial decisions have established that under the California Constitution, every pregnant woman has the fundamental right to choose to either bear a child or to have a legal abortion,” the spokesperson said.
In the Aug. 22, 2014 letter, Department director Michelle Rouillard stated that her agency, in error, approved language that excluded abortion coverage in a very small fraction of California health plan enrollees.
“All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” Ms. Rouillard stated in the letter.
Mr. Galus said the Department for decades had been allowing health plans offering coverage to religious groups to exclude abortion coverage based on religious belief.
That belief was discarded, he said, after Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates demanded that the Department prevent two Catholic universities from restricting abortion coverage.
As a result, the Department re-interpreted a 1975 state law called the “Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act” to include group health plans of churches to mandate abortion coverage, Mr. Galus said.
He said the Knox-Keene Act exempts entire categories of health plans from its requirements and gives the Department director unfettered discretion to grant exemptions from and waivers to the Act’s basic health care services requirement.
Regarding Mr. Galus’ allegation on re-interpreting the Knox-Keene Act because of pressure from Planned Parenthood, the Managed Health Care spokesperson said the Act requires health plans regulated by its department to provide basic health care services to their enrollees.
“The letter was a reminder to health plans that the Act requires the provision of basic health care services and the California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy,” the spokesperson said. “Thus, all health plans must treat services related to pregnancy neutrally.”
Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Operating by faith
“Churches have the right to operate according to their faith and nobody should be forced to pay for abortion, especially a church that teaches that abortion is taking a human life,” Mr. Galus said.
The Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino is exempt from the state regulation because it is self-insured, according to spokesman John Andrews.
Although the diocese itself is exempt, “the church would be against any government health care plan that requires abortion, which we believe is the taking of human life,” Mr. Andrews said.