The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Friday that the state of California is violating federal conscience statutes by requiring all health care providers, including employers with company health plans, to cover elective abortions. The mandate, passed by the state legislature in 2014, contains no exemption for religious and other organizations who have moral objections to abortion.
According to HHS, the state “has deprived over 28,000 people of plans that did not cover elective abortion, but now must cover abortion due to California’s mandate.”
The primary conscience statute that HHS referred to in its official letter to California is the Weldon Amendment, a provision added by Congress to yearly appropriations bills to various government agencies, including HHS.
The Weldon Amendment language is straightforward:
“None of the funds made available in this Act may be made available to a … state or local government, if such … government subjects any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”
A “health care entity” is defined as an individual physician or other health care professional, a hospital, a provider-sponsored organization, a health maintenance organization, a health insurance plan or any other kind of health care facility, organization, or plan. HHS argues that the plain language of the Weldon Amendment covers and protects employers providing health plans to employees.
The HHS investigation was triggered by complaints from two religious organizations: the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, Inc. (Guadalupanas Sisters), an order of religious women headquartered in Los Angeles; and Skyline Wesleyan Church, located in La Mesa, California. They each have religious and moral objections to providing for abortions in organization health plans.
There may be legal challenges ahead for HHS. One federal trial court in California has already disagreed with HHS’ position that the Weldon Amendment protects employers. Skyline Wesleyan Church sued California before filing a complaint with HHS, and its lawsuit was dismissed. Alliance Defending Freedom represents Skyline, which argued that decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last November. A decision is pending.
California has 30 days to respond to HHS. If the state continues to deny conscience exemption requests from its abortion mandate, it could be subject to losing part or all of the federal funds it receives from HHS.
“No one in America should be forced to pay for or cover other people’s abortions,” Roger Severino, Director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, said. “We are putting California on notice that it must stop forcing people of good will to subsidize the taking of human life, not only because it’s the moral thing to do, but because it’s the law.”
California’s Democrat Governor, Gavin Newsom, responded defiantly to the news of the HHS action, as reported in The Hill: “California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody – full stop,” Newsom said. “The Trump Administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what’s right.”
But “reproductive freedom” is anything but freedom for the aborted baby. And acknowledging and according religious freedom to faith-based employers doesn’t somehow take away an employee’s ability to obtain an abortion. (But they may have to pay for it themselves.) And when you accept employment from such an employer, you should be on notice (even if the employer forgets to inform you), that the values of the organization in its outward-facing ministry also apply to its employees. How is it reasonable to conclude anything else?
No, the objections to religious freedom from California have more to do with liberals’ disdain for Christianity in general, and its call to morality on issues of life in particular.