Some churches in California are crying foul now that the state is requiring all employers — including religious organizations — to provide health insurance plans that cover abortions.

California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) has ordered all insurance plans in the state to cover elective surgical abortions. This order includes insurance plans carried by churches.

Many church leaders believe that abortion is the destruction of a human life and should only be allowed under certain, extreme conditions.

The California state government has disregarded that concern. At the insistence of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the DMHC is now interpreting a 40-year-old state law requiring health plans to over “basic health services” as a requirement that those plans cover elective surgical abortions. The new interpretation went into effect on August 22.

Insurers have been faced with the uncomfortable task of informing their policy holders, many of which are faith-based employers, of the new requirement. Here’s how Kaiser Permanente broke the news to one church:

I want to formally share with you that on August 22, 2014, the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) notified Kaiser Permanente and other affected health plans in writing regarding group contracts that exclude ‘voluntary termination of pregnancy.’

This letter made clear that the DMHC considered health care services related to the termination of pregnancies – whether or not a voluntary termination – a medically necessary basic health care service for which all health care services plans must provide coverage under the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act.  You may recall that at the request of some employer groups with religious affiliations, Kaiser Permanente submitted a regulatory filing in May 2012 properly notifying the DMHC of a benefit plan option that excluded coverage of voluntary terminations of pregnancies. The DMHC did not object to this filing, permitting Kaiser Permanente to offer such a coverage contract to large group purchasers that requested it. The DMHC acknowledged that it previously permitted these contract exclusions, but now is requiring health care service plans to provide coverage of all terminations of pregnancies, effective immediately.  To that end, the DMHC requires Kaiser Permanente and similar health care service plans to initiate steps to modify their plan contracts accordingly.

Effective August 22, Kaiser Permanente will comply with this regulatory mandate.

The Alliance Defending Freedom and Life Legal Defense Foundation has filed a complaint with the HHS Office of Civil Rights on behalf of some employees and seven churches in California in response to this new reading of the law.

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