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Explainer: California forcing some churches to pay for abortion

California is forcing some churches to pay for abortion. Some might already be paying for it without even knowing it.

What happened?

At the urging of Planned Parenthood, on August 22, 2014, The Department of Managed Health Care (DHMC) sent a regulatory letter to the state’s major healthcare providers to revise language concerning “a very small fraction of California health plan enrollees” which “may discriminate against women by limiting or excluding coverage for termination of pregnancies.” That very small fraction included churches like Skyline Church, who is being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and is appealing this decision.

The letter describes abortion as a “basic health care service” and that “all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.” Neutrality, in this case, means that all health plans must cover abortion services. The letter goes on to order that these healthcare providers “must amend current health plan documents to remove discriminatory coverage exclusions and limitations. These limitations or exclusions include, but are not limited to, any exclusion of coverage for ‘voluntary’ or ‘elective’ abortions and/or any limitation of coverage to only ‘therapeutic’ or ‘medically necessary’ abortions.” The letter goes on to mention that healthcare providers “may, consistent with the law, omit any mention of coverage for abortion services in health plan documents, as abortion is a basic health care service.” Thus, churches may be subscribing to a healthcare plan which covers abortion and not even realize it.

After becoming aware of these letters, Skyline Church filed a complaint in a California district court. The court denied the complaint. According to ADF, “Skyline Church is now asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse this decision.” ADF began arguing this case before the Ninth Circuit on Nov. 4.

A regulatory revision as significant as this is typically accomplished through legislation or other means which allow for public input. This revision did no such thing. Calling their prior decision to approve of such exemptions “erroneous,” the DHMC simply sent out this letter with the expectation that healthcare providers would comply.

How should Christians think about this?

Churches desire to provide good healthcare coverage to their employees while also upholding their deeply held religious beliefs. However, under this rule, churches like Skyline would either be forced to subscribe to a healthcare plan which provides abortions or else decline to provide healthcare to its employees, subjecting the church to major fines under Obamacare. This is an unreasonable violation of a church’s First Amendment rights. They should not be put in a position between choosing to uphold its values to protect human life in the womb and providing quality healthcare for its employees. Forcing churches to choose to violate their consciences goes against a healthy understanding of the principle of separation of church and state.

What should Christians do about this?

  1. Pray. Pray that the lawyers arguing on behalf of the churches would have favor with the judges and that an exemption to this onerous rule would be restored to churches wishing to provide healthcare for their employees while not violating their consciences.
  2. Contact your representatives. If you live in California, contact your legislative representatives to let them know that you object to this decision by the DHMC and that legislation should be passed allowing churches to operate according to their deeply held religious beliefs to protect human life.
  3. Be aware. If you work for a church and get health insurance through them, check your healthcare plan. Contact your healthcare provider, and learn what services your healthcare does and does not provide. Prayerfully consider what the Lord would have you do, and contact trusted legal services if necessary.

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