Today Oregon Right to Life (“ORTL”) sued for relief from Oregon’s requirement (the “Mandate”) that ORTL provide coverage in its employee health-insurance plan for abortion. The Mandate violates ORTL’s religious liberty protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Mandate was enacted in 2017 as the Reproductive Health Equity Act (“RHEA”). It is like California’s abortion-coverage mandate. Federal courts recently held that California’s mandate violates the religious liberty of objecting churches under the Supreme Court’s Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (2021) decision.
ORTL likewise challenges Oregon’s Mandate under Fulton’s analysis. Under Fulton, if the government allows exceptions to laws burdening religious belief, the government must show a “compelling” reason for not also allowing exceptions for religious objectors. In Fulton and the California church cases, the courts held that there was no compelling reason to deny exceptions for the religious objectors.
“As a pro-life organization, no one questions that we hold deep moral objections to abortion,” said ORTL executive director Lois Anderson. “We are only asking for what every American expects, to be free to live according to our conscience and operate our organization according to our sincerely held belief that unborn human beings deserve protection from the violence of abortion.”
Because Oregon’s Mandate allows exceptions, Oregon must prove a compelling reason for not allowing ORTL an exception. But the courts have already rejected the reasons Oregon might assert as not compelling. For example, because ORTL’s employees agree with ORTL’s beliefs, Oregon has no compelling reason to require coverage since the employees don’t want it. So ORTL should get an exception.
James Bopp, Jr., of The Bopp Law Firm, PC, and counsel for ORTL, says: “Forcing pro-life Oregon Right to Life to fund abortion insurance is outrageous. Legislative testimony made ORTL and its opposition known to the legislature, but it didn’t care. Fortunately, the First Amendment protects ORTL. ORTL should get an exception from Oregon’s abortion-insurance mandate just as California churches recently got one from California’s abortion-insurance mandate.”
The Complaint is available here.