NEW YORK – A coalition of religious groups, including Catholic nuns and dioceses, recently argued before the New York Court of Appeals that the state violated their religious beliefs in mandating that they cover abortion in their employee health insurance plans.

In Diocese of Albany v. Harris, a group of Anglican and Catholic nuns, Catholic dioceses, Christian churches, and faith-based social ministries across New York State are looking for the state Court of Appeals to overturn the mandate, after their initial attempt failed.

A decision is expected later this year.

The New York State Department of Financial Services implemented the mandate that employers must cover abortions in their employee health insurance plans back in 2017. When the law went into effect it included only a narrow exemption covering religious groups that both primarily teach religion and primarily serve and hire those who share their faith.

That, however, doesn’t apply to most religious ministries. Many religious ministries serve all people regardless of their beliefs or religious affiliation.

An initial attempt by the religious groups to have the mandate overturned in the courts failed, as the New York State courts sided with the state. The groups then appealed to the Supreme Court, which in 2021 reversed the lower courts’ rulings and told them to reconsider the case.

The religious groups are represented by Becket, Jones Day, and Tobin and Dempf, LLP.

Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, called the mandate “unacceptable.”

“Forcing nuns to bankroll abortions because they believe in serving all people is unacceptable,” Baxter said in an April 17 statement. “The court should toss this mandate into the dustbin of history and allow these religious groups to focus on what they do best: caring for those in need.”

Noel Francisco, partner-in-charge of Jones Day’s Washington Office, who argued on behalf of the religious groups in court on April 16, said in a statement that he asked the court to follow the guidance of the Supreme Court and protect religious freedom.

“Religious groups in New York should not be required to provide insurance coverage that violates their deeply held religious beliefs,” Noel Francisco said. “We asked the court to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s guidance, protect religious freedom, and make clear that the mandate cannot be applied to this diverse group of religious organizations.”