Earlier this year, California lawmakers introduced Assembly Bill 1254, which would reverse the Department of Managed Health Care’s (DMHC) mandate that all employers, even churches, include elective abortion in their health insurance plans. However, apparently Planned Parenthood believes they can count on the Obama administration not to enforce the law that makes churches and religious groups pay for abortions under state health plans.
As LifeNews previously reported, in 2014, Alliance Defending Freedom and Life Legal Defense Foundation filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concerning the California mandate. They represented churches in the state that objected to providing employees insurance plans that covered elective abortions. Additionally, in a separate letter they warned DMHC that their mandate violates federal law.
In a recent article in Red State, Casey Mattox, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom said, “I testified at an April 28 hearing in support of the bill along with Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, one of the churches forced to cover abortions by this illegal mandate. I hoped to finally hear some explanation of how the California law did not violate the Weldon Amendment. Instead, the Democratic majority’s analysis of the bill didn’t even mention the federal law with which the bill was meant to bring California into compliance. A representative from Planned Parenthood of California and a constitutional law professor from Santa Clara University testified in opposition to AB1254, but neither offered any explanation as to how the California mandate they supported did not violate federal law.”
Despite the fact that the Weldon Amendment forbids the government from making pro-life employers pay for abortions, Planned Parenthood opposed the measure. Mattox said, “…When I pointed out that neither the committee nor those testifying in favor of the abortion mandate were attempting to square it with the Weldon Amendment, Beth Parker, a Planned Parenthood attorney, had no real answer except to rely on the Obama administration to ignore this blatant violation of federal law: “Only the federal government can enforce the Weldon Amendment, and it has never been enforced by either Republican or Democratic Administrations.” (25:15-25:23).
Mattox added, “Churches and other religious employers should not be coerced by the government into violating their fundamental beliefs by being party to elective abortion. When Congress enacted the Weldon Amendment, it sought to ensure that the government could never strong-arm pro-life employers into paying for abortion coverage. California is blatantly ignoring federal law and pushing its abortion ideology on citizens while still receiving taxpayer money.”
Unfortunately, the legislation failed and now Mattoxsays Planned Parenthood’s attorney, Beth Parker, is wrong to assume that the Obama administration will make sure California will obey federal law.
First, she’s wrong about HHS’s historical enforcement of conscience laws. After an ADF complaint, HHS investigated Mt. Sinai’s Hospital’s policies that forced a nurse to participate in a late-term abortion, resulting in policy revisions to protect conscience rights. And after another ADF complaint to HHS, Vanderbilt University abandoned an abortion participation pledge required of applicants. HHS acknowledges its responsibility to enforce federal conscience laws, including the Weldon Amendment.
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But second, it should be offensive to both Congress and the Obama administration that California would so brazenly defy federal law, knowingly violating its promise not to discriminate against health plans that do not cover abortions as one of the conditions of receiving taxpayer dollars from the federal government. When one thinks of nullification and states resisting federal law, one typically thinks of the Civil War or the Jim Crow South. But the new nullifiers, refusing to comply with federal law (while taking the federal taxpayers’ money) are states like California and Illinois that are ignoring federal law to impose their pro-abortion (and anti-conscience) ideology.
Unfortunately, the slowness of the HHS Office of Civil Rights to intervene here may be contributing to the view that California is free to ignore federal law without consequences. DMHC issued its order on Aug. 22. After immediately writing to DMHC, ADF and our friends at Life Legal Defense Foundation filed two complaints with the HHS Office of Civil Rights on behalf of individuals and churches within weeks. HHS only began an investigation in December. Now, nearly nine months later, HHS has still not enforced the Weldon Amendment against California. Some members of Congress have taken note of both California’s blatant violation of federal law and the administration’s slow enforcement of that law, demanding action from Secretary Burwell.
What California’s dismissive attitude toward federal conscience laws proves is that we need protections that aren’t dependent upon the administration’s willingness to enforce them. The Abortion Nondiscrimination Act would allow private individuals (and in this case churches) whose federal conscience rights have been violated to seek redress in court. California’s refusal to comply with federal law and the Obama administration’s slow enforcement of that law is making an excellent case that the time has come to take enforcement of these important laws out of the hands of bureaucrats. We need ANDA.