The state of California will pay more than $1 million in attorney’s fees after losing battles with four churches over health care coverage for abortion services, according to the Christian Post.
The churches — Skyline Wesleyan Church near San Diego, Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino and Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch — successfully fought a state policy requiring employers to cover abortion in employee health plans. They argued the requirement violated religious freedom protections.
In two separate cases, judges ruled against California officials, deciding that churches with faith-based objections to elective abortion procedures should receive a religious exemption from the coverage rules.
U.S. District Chief Judge Kimberly Mueller, who heard the lawsuit involving Foothill Church, Calvary Chapel and Shepherd of the Hills, wrote in her decision that the state had failed to justify its claim that offering exemptions would create an impossible amount of work for the California Department of Managed Health Care, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Even assuming similar religious challenges materialized in California in large numbers, (the state) has not offered evidence showing that entertaining these religious objections would be so difficult and time-consuming that ‘DMHC’s operations would grind to a halt,’” Mueller wrote.
California owes $1.4 million
The cases were wrapped up recently with orders specifying what the state owes to the churches that challenged the abortion policy.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which was involved in both lawsuits, said in a May 12 statement that California had agreed to pay $1.4 million total in attorney’s fees to settle the disputes.
“This is a significant victory for the churches we represent, the conscience rights of their members, and other religious organizations that shouldn’t be ordered by the government to violate some of their deepest faith convictions,” said Jeremiah Galus, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, in the statement.
Birth control and abortion lawsuits
Although the legal battles centered on a California state policy, they had much in common with several recent federal lawsuits, most notably the many faith-based challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate.
Various religious organizations spent years in court fighting the act’s requirement that most employers cover birth control in employee health plans. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of faith-based companies and nonprofits multiple times, ensuring broad access to accommodations and exemptions.
Abortion-related religious freedom lawsuits have also become more common in recent years, especially after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June of last year.
In blue states, faith groups are finding ways to challenge laws expanding access to abortion by, for example, working to limit the use of abortion pills.
In red states, on the other hand, religious organizations have argued that abortion bans violate religious freedom protections, as the Deseret News has previously reported.