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How 2 Ninth Circuit Cases Can Protect Life and Religious Freedom

February 28, 2020

In a major win for the sanctity of life and religious freedom, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a policy from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that keeps taxpayer money earmarked for family planning out of the hands of abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood.

Spearheaded by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the failed lawsuit mirrored California’s commitment to forcing taxpayers to fund abortion through its own Department of Managed Health Care. In that case, Alliance Defending Freedom has asked the 9th Circuit to protect churches throughout the state who have found themselves targeted by the extreme policy.

Let’s take a look.


Keeping Taxpayer Dollars away from Planned Parenthood

On Monday, February 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit issued a 7-4 en banc ruling that confirmed HHS has the authority to withhold family planning funds under Title X of the Public Health Service Act from “programs where abortion is a method of family planning.” That means federal funds will go to programs that benefit the healthcare needs of mother and child and away from Planned Parenthood.

In a statement praising the decision, ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves notes:

Taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for abortions. That’s precisely why Title X includes language allowing the federal government to deny funding to organizations that perform and promote them. The 9th Circuit was on firm ground to allow HHS to follow the law and ensure that no Title X money reaches the coffers of Planned Parenthood or any other organizations that are in the abortion business … Plenty of other organizations provide valuable and genuine health care services that are deserving of this money. Planned Parenthood is not.

The lawsuit in question, State of California v. Azar, was originally filed last March by Attorney General Becerra, and several others states and Title X grantees brought various lawsuits challenging the 2019 Title X Rule as well.


California’s History of Forcing Churches to Fund Abortions

Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa, California, has been serving the San Diego area since 1954. As the church began to grow, the leadership followed its religious obligation to provide a generous health insurance plan to ensure the care of the church’s employees.

Skyline believes that every human life is valuable and deserving of protection and that abortion is incompatible with this belief. Skyline only employs church members who share its beliefs, and the church took great care to ensure its employee health insurance didn’t cover elective abortions.

However, in 2014, the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) rescinded existing religious accommodations and mandated immediate coverage of all legal abortions, forcing churches like Skyline to pay for abortion coverage in their insurance plans. Unelected bureaucrats in the state of California bent over backwards to please Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates—even though it meant forcing churches to pay for abortions against their deeply held beliefs. In fact, ADF discovered emails from Planned Parenthood to the DMHC asking the agency to “fix” its rules in order to force religious organizations to fund abortions.

As if this wasn’t crazy enough, the DMHC also told insurance providers that they could add the abortion coverage without telling their customers about the change.

After ADF attorneys filed a complaint against the department, a California district court denied the church’s request for relief. The church then appealed to the 9th Circuit, asking it to reverse the district court ruling.

On November 4, 2019, the 9th Circuit heard oral arguments in Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care.

ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus explains the necessity of this lawsuit:

Churches should be free to follow their deepest convictions without unlawful, unjust government mandates. The Department of Managed Health Care is misguided in its attempts to force a church to pay for elective abortions. The agency has unconstitutionally targeted religious organizations, repeatedly collaborated with pro-abortion advocates, and failed to follow the appropriate administrative procedures to institute this unprecedented mandate.


HHS Steps In

Commemorating this year’s March for Life, HHS issued a notice of violation to California over its attempt to force churches and religious groups to fund abortions.

The HHS Office for Civil Rights told California it had 30 days to comply with federal law or risk losing federal funds, and so far, California is doubling down on its policy.

Once again, the 9th Circuit has a chance to protect religious freedom by ruling in favor of Skyline Wesleyan Church and others like it. Churches should be free to operate according to their faith without being threatened by the government.


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