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California health plans may require all health plans to include abortion, HHS rules

Jeffrey Bruno

John Burger - published on 06/23/16 - updated on 06/07/17

Decision that conscience protection amendment doesn't apply seems to contradict assurance given in transgender ruling

Fresh off of losing a Supreme Court case over forcing religious non-profits to participate in providing contraceptives in their health insurance plan, the Obama Administration ruled that the state of California may require all health insurance plans to cover abortions.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday that California did not violate a religious freedom law when it ordered health insurance companies to pay for elective abortions.

“It is shocking that HHS has allowed the State of California to force all employers – even churches – to fund and facilitate elective abortions in their health insurance plans. Even those who disagree on the issue of life should be able to respect the conscience rights of those who wish not to be involved in supporting abortion,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said in a statement. Cardinal Dolan is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Archbishop Lori chairs the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

The two prelates called on Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act (H.R. 4828, S. 2927), a measure they say would remedy the impasse.

The Associated Press provided background on the case:

The decision by  upholds California’s 2014 order requiring seven insurance companies to rescind and re-issue policies covering workers at organizations whose leadership objects to abortion on moral grounds, such as Catholic universities. Three complaints were filed with federal authorities under the Weldon Amendment, which protects health care entities from being required to get involved with abortions. In a letter announcing her findings, Jocelyn Samuels, head of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, said the state acted within its rights because the Weldon Amendment applied to insurance companies, not the employers that have a moral objection to abortion.

“When California – without public hearings or sufficient notification – defined abortion as a basic health care service two years ago it became absolutely necessary to file this complaint,” explained Edward “Ned” Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference.  “Forcing organizations and individuals to violate their religious convictions is a threat to fundamental human liberties.”

The Weldon Amendment is an annual appropriations rider, signed into law consistently since 2004, which protects against state-imposed discrimination on the basis of declining to pay for or participate in abortion.

More to read:Supreme Court sends Little Sisters of the Poor case back to lower courts

Congressman Chris Smith and other members of the Congressional Bipartisan Pro-Life Caucus, which he chairs, met with Samuels and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell Wednesday to express “our strong disagreement with the Administration’s outrageous misinterpretation of the Weldon Amendment,” Smith said in a statement.

“In a more than hour long discussion, HHS doubled down on its decision to unilaterally rewrite the law – the Weldon Amendment – to allow California to continue to discriminate against pro-life plans. California has been violating the Weldon Amendment for nearly two years with impunity – forcing churches that purchase health plans to cover abortion. It is outright discrimination to force a health plan to cease to exist because it doesn’t include abortion.”

“Congress must not let this discrimination stand. We must take this issue out of the hands of the Obama Administration by moving enforcement of current conscience protections to the courts. Congress needs to enact legislation so churches and other victims have a “private right of action” so they can have their day in court.”

This week’s HHS ruling seems to be contrary to a stipulation made in a recent Obama administration ruling on a separate issue: transgender operations. In May, HHS published the final rule for Obamacare’s Section 1557, requiring healthcare providers receiving federal funds to perform “gender transition” services and abortions, or face termination of government aid.

“The 1557 regulation includes language that says the rule is subject to existing conscience protections including Church and Weldon, Jeff Tieman, a spokesman for the Catholic Health Association, told Aleteia at the time. “Under Church and Weldon, hospitals do not have to provide abortions.”


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