Admin. rejects complaint that California broke abortion law

Admin. rejects complaint that California broke abortion law
© Greg Nash

The Obama administration on Tuesday rejected a complaint from religious groups in California that had argued the state was violating federal law by requiring all health insurance plans to cover abortions. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The Office of Civil Rights within the federal Department of Health and Human Services wrote in a letter that California’s requirements do not violate the federal Weldon Amendment. 

The case has been closely watched by congressional Republicans, who have argued that the administration was dragging its feet in the investigation, and the ruling Tuesday drew sharp objections from some in the GOP. 

At issue is a California state agency’s ruling in 2014 that all health insurance plans in the state had to cover abortions. The letters had the effect of disallowing insurance plans offered to two Catholic universities in the state that had previously excluded coverage of “elective” abortions. 

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. 

They say that California’s ruling violates the federal Weldon Amendment, which protects a “healthcare entity,” including a health insurance plan, from discrimination if it declines to cover abortions. 

The Obama administration, however, ruled on Tuesday that California’s actions do not violate the Weldon Amendment. 

In a letter, HHS noted that none of the healthcare entities themselves are objecting or saying they are being discriminated against. That is, the health insurance companies themselves have no moral objections to covering abortions. 

The churches and other groups that are objecting, HHS said, are not healthcare entities and therefore are not protected by the law. 

“By its plain terms, 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,” HHS wrote. 

HHS also raises the issue that if had ruled that there was a violation, the law would potentially require the federal government to rescind billions of dollars in federal aid to California. That move could be unconstitutional coercion of the state by the federal government, under a standard set out by the Supreme Court in the 2012 ObamaCare case, HHS said. 

House Republicans have proposed legislation to strengthen the Weldon Amendment to allow people to sue over alleged violations instead of leaving enforcement solely in the hands of HHS. 

Republicans also noted that it took the administration more than a year to investigate and come up with its decision, a pace that HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell acknowledged was not fast enough. 

“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,” Rep. John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingThe Hill's Morning Report - Iran strikes US bases in Iraq; Trump to speak today In Australia's nightmare, a vision of the planet's future The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today MORE (R-La.) said in a statement. “The legislation 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.”

“This Administration is hell bent on forcing Americans to accept, without recourse, their worldview and it is time to push back on these brazen attacks to liberty,” he added.