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La Mesa church sues state over requirement to provide abortion coverage with health insurance

LA MESA, Calif. — An appeals court heard arguments Monday in a federal lawsuit filed by a La Mesa church against a state health agency, alleging violations of equal protection rights for “forcing” churches to have elective abortions covered in their health insurance plans.

Skyline Wesleyan Church filed suit in response to a 2014 letter distributed by the California Department of Managed Health Care to various insurance agencies, in which the department said health plans must include abortion coverage, or be in violation of state law.

The letter stated that “the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975 requires the provision of basic health services and the California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.”

The church alleged in its suit that Skyline Wesleyan’s insurance plans — covering more than 100 employees — were rewritten without notifying the church.

A lower court ruled in favor of the state agency, and the church appealed, triggering Monday morning’s session before a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, which did not issue an immediate decision.

A statement from the church says that it only employs people who share its beliefs regarding abortions and that it believes “all life is valuable and deserving of protection and that abortion is incompatible with that belief.”

The church was represented by Jeremiah Galus, an attorney with the nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, who maintained that 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,” he alleged.

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