A recent mandate from the state of California may put some religious organizations in the paradoxical situation of having their employee health plans not cover some forms of contraception, while providing coverage for elective surgical abortions.
The issue arose in August, when the California Department of Managed Health Care director Michelle Rouillard sent a letter to Anthem Blue Cross and several other insurance firms warning providers that California law requires insurers to treat both “maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.”
According to Rouillard’s letter, state law gives women have a right to choose either to have a child or obtain an abortion. The DMHC letter said this means insurance policies must cover abortion services, with the only exception being those who “object to doing so for reasons of conscience or religion.”
Now, two Christian legal groups have filed complaints with the federal Department of Health and Human Services alleging the California rule puts faith-based organizations in a bind, and the state at risk of losing billions in federal funds.
An InsideHigherEd.com report states the DMHC letter follows protests by largely non-Catholic faculty at Loyola Marymount University and Santa Clara University over the schools’ plans to drop abortion coverage from their health insurance. Loyola excluded abortion coverage this year, and Santa Clara planned to eliminate the coverage in 2015, media reports indicate.
Apart from the Catholic schools, seven churches in California have received similar notifications from their insurers, that elective surgical abortion coverage would be required as part of their employee health plans, according to Casey Mattox, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom.
The churches are Skyline Church in La Mesa, Foothill Church and Foothill Christian School in Glendora, Alpine Christian Fellowship in El Cajon, The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, City View Church in San Diego, Faith Baptist Church in Santa Barbara, and Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, all southern California locales.
“Several other California churches have received similar notices from their insurers, and others will follow,” Mattox wrote at The Federalist website. “While California (like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS) exempts churches from its contraceptive mandate, there is no exception to this bureaucratic abortion mandate. This leaves California churches in the illogical and impossible position of being free to exclude contraceptives from their health plan for reasons of religious conscience but required to provide their employees with abortion coverage.”
On Oct. 9, the ADF and the Life Legal Defense Foundation filed a complaint with HHS saying the California abortion-coverage mandate violated the 2004 Weldon Amendment, a measure passed every year since as part of federal appropriations legislation. As explained on the HHS website, the Weldon Amendment prohibits HHS and Labor Department funding -- an estimated $40 billion a year for California -- from going to states that don’t allow conscience exemptions to abortion coverage requirements.
According to the latest LLDF/ADF complaint, the “DMHC is an arm of the State of California and purports to be interpreting and applying the law of California, a state that receives billions of taxpayer dollars. … California accepted those funds with full knowledge of the requirements of the Weldon Amendment, but it has chosen to ignore this law.”
A DMHC spokesman was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
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