Obama Admin Rejects Conscience Objections to Mandatory Abortion Funding in California Health Plans

By Lauretta Brown | June 22, 2016 | 8:36 PM EDT

(AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rejected complaints Tuesday from California churches and religious groups against a state regulation that mandates abortion coverage in all state health care plans with no religious exemptions.

The California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) stated in an August 2014 letter to seven insurance companies that they were required to include elective abortions in their health plans with no exceptions.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a complaint with HHS in September 2014 on behalf of seven employees and health care plan participants with Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles arguing that the mandate “constitutes unlawful discrimination under a health care entity” according to the Hyde-Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment, which “forbids governmental bodies receiving federal funds from discriminating against those who decline to take part in abortion or abortion coverage.”

Three California churches also filed a lawsuit against the DMHC over the mandate in October 2015.

The OCR’s Tuesday response to the August 2014 complaint claimed that the DMHC’s directive does not violate the Weldon amendment as “the Weldon Amendment’s protections extend only to health care entities and not to individuals who are patients of, or institutions or individuals, that are insured by, such entities.”

The letter argued that “none of the complainants meets the definition of a ‘health care entity’ under the Weldon Amendment.”

They concluded that since none of the seven insurers who received the letter mandating elective abortion coverage objected to it that “there is no healthcare entity protected under the [right of conscience] statute that has asserted religious or moral objections to abortion and therefore there is no covered entity that has been subject to discrimination within the meaning of the Weldon Amendment.”

“The Obama administration is once again making a mockery of the law, and this time in the most unimaginable way,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Casey Mattox responded to the decision Tuesday.

“Churches should never be forced to cover elective abortion in their insurance plans, and for 10 years the Weldon Amendment has protected the right to have plans that do not include coverage for abortion on demand,” he emphasized. “But the state of California has ordered every insurer, even those insuring churches, to cover elective abortions in blatant violation of the law.

“The administration’s refusal to enforce this law continues its pattern of enforcing laws it wants to enforce, refusing to enforce others, and inventing new interpretations of others out of whole cloth,” Mattox said.

“We will continue to defend churches from this clear violation of the First Amendment and federal law,” he said, adding that ADF will “call on Congress to hold the Department of Health and Human Services accountable.”

Many in Congress reacted angrily to the OCR decision Tuesday.

“After a drawn-out non-investigation, the Obama Administration decided today that churches and religious schools in California should be forced to pay for abortions through their health plans,” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said in a statement Tuesday.

“If that weren’t enough, today’s actions are a complete misinterpretation of long-standing federal law known as the Weldon amendment, that would withhold federal dollars from flowing to California should the state persist in requiring all health plans to cover abortions,” Fleming argued.

“Clearly, respect for the law has never been a top priority for the White House,” Fleming wrote, adding that, “today’s decision, now perhaps more than ever, reveals why this Congress must act immediately to pass my bill, H.R. 4828, Conscience Protection Act.”

Fleming’s bill would “codify the Weldon amendment and allow citizens affected by this HHS decision a right of action, to petition the courts for a redress of grievances.”

“Nearly two years after California imposed its draconian mandate that requires all insurance companies to pay for abortion the Obama Administration has reached a new low -- reinterpreting the Weldon amendment to allow the mandate to continue,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said in response to the decision Tuesday. “This means that Californians, including churches, will continue to be forced to pay for elective abortions in their insurance plans.

“This decision illustrates the far reaches of Obama’s radical pro-abortion ideology – forcing churches and communities of faith that have pro-life convictions to participate in and pay for a practice that dismembers and chemically poisons unborn children,” Smith emphasized.

“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,” Smith concluded.