The Trump administration is looking at key conscience issues troubling pro-life advocates — including an Obama ruling forcing California churches to pay for abortions.
Churches in California are officially subject to an onerous state regulation that requires them to pay for abortions, thanks to a ruling by the Obama administration.
The troubling situation began in 2014 when the California Department of Managed Health Care reclassified abortion as a “basic health service” under the Affordable Care Act and ordered all insurance plans in the state to begin covering surgical abortions immediately. Even churches are not exempt from funding abortions.
The churches filed a lawsuit against the regulation last October, and it has been moving through the courts.
But pro-life members of Congress hope the Trump administration can provide relief. They want the administration to uphold the Weldon Amendment — federal law that protects conscience rights.
Today, top Republicans met with Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price on how the California abortion mandate violates the Weldon Amendment and other ways federal conscience protections were undermined by the previous Administration. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23), Chairman Diane Black (TN-06), and Representatives Vicky Hartzler (MO-04), Andy Harris (MD-01), Stephen Knight (CA-25), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Peter Roskam (IL-06), and Chris Smith (NJ-04) participated in the meeting.
Afterwards, they told LifeNews:
“The Weldon Amendment protects health care entities—from hospitals to insurance providers—from being discriminated against by the government if they don’t provide or cover abortions, especially if doing so violates their consciences. The last Administration ignored this fact and refused to enforce the law, including in California, where health insurance providers are being forced to offer abortion coverage.
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“After our meeting with Secretary Price, we are fully confident that the Trump Administration is willing to take a fresh look at the California abortion mandate controversy and other conscience violations, addressing them in a way that respects the people’s rights and fully conforms with the congressional intent of the Weldon Amendment. Ultimately, the government has no right to force Americans to participate in a practice that takes the lives of unborn children. We thank Secretary Price for his attention to this important matter.”
During the Obama administration, the HHS Office of Civil Rights released the results of its investigation into the California abortion mandate — stating it found no violation and is closing its investigation of the complaints without further action.
OCR’s decision is based on a flawed reading of the Weldon amendment. They argue that the Weldon amendment only protects health insurance plans, and not the purchasers of such plans, and state that the insurance companies have not complained. To say that a previously existing plan that excluded abortion must be discontinued is discriminatory against the life-affirming abortion-free plan. Whether the insurance company objects or not, the mandate is discriminatory.
Furthermore, OCR states that the insurance companies do not hold a religious or moral objection to covering abortion. The Weldon amendment is not limited to religious or moral objections. It is not even based on an objection being raised. It simply states no funds may be made available to a government that subjects a health care entity (health plan in this case) to discrimination on the basis that the entity “does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortion.”
Pro-life leaders in Congress were furious with the Obama administration when the mandate was adopted.
“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,” said Rep. Chris Smith, Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus in comments to LifeNews.com. “This means that Californians, including churches, will continue to be forced to pay for elective abortions in their insurance plans.”
Smith continued, “The Weldon amendment – named for the Florida Congressman Dave Weldon who authored it – has been renewed and signed into law annually, including by President Obama. The Weldon Amendment protects against state-imposed abortion mandates. But Obama’s Administration has again shown blatant disregard for the rule of law. 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.
“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.”
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Casey Mattoxalso commented on the Obama administration’s decision in an email to LifeNews at the time. He said:
“The Obama Administration is once again making a mockery of the law, and this time in the most unimaginable way. Churches should never be forced to cover elective abortion in their insurance plans, and for ten years the Weldon Amendment has protected the right to have plans that do not include coverage for abortion-on-demand. But the state of California has ordered every insurer, even those insuring churches, to cover elective abortions in blatant violation of the law. The Obama 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. We will continue to defend churches from this clear violation of the First Amendment and federal law and call on Congress to hold the Department of Health and Human Services accountable.”