Every year the DHHS doles out billions of federal tax dollars to states for various health and education programs. But this money comes with conditions, and one of the conditions, known as the Weldon Amendment, prohibits recipients of these funds from discriminating against individuals, entities, insurers, or health insurance plans that do not provide or pay for abortion.
The Office of Civil Rights within the DHHS is tasked with ensuring that the Weldon Amendment and other federal conscience laws are followed. To date, three separate complaints have been filed with the Office of Civil Rights concerning California’s blatant violation of the Weldon Amendment. The complainants range from employees of a Catholic university forced to change its plan to cover abortion, to seven Christian churches who found their plans unilaterally changed to cover abortion, to the California Catholic Conference on behalf of its members.
In 2011, the DHHS reaffirmed its commitment to enforcing federal conscience laws, stating that when it becomes aware of activities by a state or local government that may violate these conscience protections, it will first “work with such government . . . to assist such government to comply or come into compliance” with federal law. Failing that, the Department “will consider all legal options including termination of funding [and] return of funds paid out in violation” of these laws.
California’s violation of federal law is clear. Equally clear is the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate to enforce that law. What remains to be seen is whether the Administration will follow through on President Obama’s personal pledge to “honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion.”
Catherine Shortis a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and received her law degree from Boalt Hall, U.C. Berkeley. For over three decades she has provided legal defense for the rights of pro-life organizations and individuals. In 1989, Ms. Short helped establish the Life Legal Defense Foundation, which she now serves as Legal Director. She is a wife and mother of nine children.