Wednesday, July 21, 2021

9th Circuit Remands Churches' Challenge To California Abortion Coverage Mandate

In Foothill Church v. Watanabe, (9th Cir., July 19, 2021), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision vacated a California federal district court's rejection of free exercise and equal protection challenges to California's requirement that insurance companies include coverage for abortion services in all health insurance policies. The court remanded for further consideration in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. Judge Bress filed a dissenting opinion, saying in part:

We should have decided the appeal that was properly before us and held what the law pre- and post-Fulton plainly requires: the Director’s broad discretionary authority to issue individualized exemptions from the abortion coverage obligation means that we must apply strict scrutiny to California’s requirement that the churches’ health planscover elective abortions.

Separately, in a memorandum opinion issued at the same time, the court unanimously affirmed the dismissal of the churches' Establishment Clause claim, saying that all religious organizations are treated alike, and the Establishment Clause is not violated merely because a rule happens to coincide with the beliefs of some religions.