SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California's Catholic leadership has filed a federal civil rights complaint over a state requirement that health insurance cover abortions.

The California Catholic Conference, which represents the state's bishops and archbishops, sent a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It contends that California's Department of Managed Health Care discriminated against those morally opposed to abortion and requests an investigation.

The complaint is under review, said Rachel Seeger, spokeswoman for the federal agency's Office for Civil Rights.

The state agency didn't immediately comment.

The Catholic conference is challenging a directive the state managed care agency sent Aug. 22 to seven insurance companies. It said that California's Constitution and a 1975 state law prohibited them from selling group plans that exclude coverage for legal abortions.

"Abortion is a basic health care service," department director Michelle Rouillard wrote in the letter.

The civil rights complaint contends that the directive targeted Catholic-run institutions, including Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

The schools notified employees last fall that they planned to stop paying for elective abortions, but said faculty and staff members could pay for supplemental coverage that would be provided through a third party.

The complaint argues that the state action violates the federal Weldon Amendment, which allows the government to withhold federal funding from agencies, programs and state or local governments that discriminate against doctors, hospitals or insurers that don't offer abortion coverage.

"For the first time in California — indeed, for the first time anywhere in the United States — health plans are now required, as a matter of regulatory fiat, to cover all legal abortions, even late-term abortions, for any reason," the complaint stated.

"It is a flagrant violation of their civil rights and deepest moral convictions, and is government coercion of the worst kind.",'' said a statement from Bishop Robert McElroy, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and chair of the Institutional Concerns Committee of the California Catholic Conference.

The conference represents the archbishops of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the bishops of Fresno, Monterey, Oakland, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton.

The group "is the official voice of the 10 million Catholics and their many parishes, schools, universities, social service agencies in California," according to a conference press statement.

Clashes between governments and religious groups have intensified in recent years over birth control coverage, abortion and religious freedom. Dozens of U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses, charities and colleges have sued in federal court over the contraceptive coverage required under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Several evangelical nonprofits have also sued, arguing some of the birth control methods covered under the law are tantamount to abortion. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Hobby Lobby chain and other closely held private businesses with religious objections could opt out of the birth control mandate.