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Obama health chief admits abortion law inquiry too slow

Obama health chief admits abortion law inquiry too slow
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Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell acknowledged Wednesday that the administration has not moved fast enough in investigating an alleged violation of abortion law. 

Burwell was questioned at a congressional hearing Wednesday about a California state agency’s decision in 2014 to require all health insurance plans in the state to cover abortions, which Republicans say is a clear violation of the federal Weldon Amendment, protecting insurance plans from discrimination if they decline to cover abortions. 

The HHS Office of Civil Rights, which has the responsibility of enforcing the Weldon Amendment, said in December 2014 it had opened an investigation into California’s actions. But the investigation is still not complete. 

“I would like for it to have moved more quickly than it has moved, but the investigation is open, and until it is closed, I am not at a place to discuss in terms of what the investigation has yielded or will yield,” Burwell said. 

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) asked her for a time frame on when the investigation will be complete. 

“I am not satisfied with our speed. We’ll continue to work on that issue, but I don’t feel I can give you a specific time frame because it is an investigation and I need it to run its ability and its course,” Burwell replied. 

A collection of churches and other religious groups have argued that the rule has effectively forced them to violate their religious beliefs by offering insurance plans that cover abortions. 

Congressional Republicans have been frustrated by the lack of results. 

Pitts pointed to comments Burwell made last February when she was asked about the same issue at a hearing. She said then her department would move “expeditiously.”

Asked Wednesday if the process had in fact been expeditious, Burwell acknowledged that it could have moved faster. 

Still, she said, “I take seriously the issues that you’ve raised.”