Obama Administration Ignores Federal Law, Allows California to Force Churches to Fund Abortions

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Feb 1, 2016   |   2:51PM   |   Washington, DC

It has been more than a year since the Obama Administration promised to investigate a California order that forces churches to fund abortions through health insurance plans. Despite the repeated urging of pro-life lawmakers and religious groups in California to act on that promise, the administration appears to be doing nothing.

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 Hill reports that pro-life leaders in the U.S. House are criticizing the administration for ignoring the situation. This week, they are calling on the administration to perform its duty to enforce the federal Weldon Amendment, which protects health care groups, including insurance agencies, from discrimination if they decline to cover or refer for abortions.

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Tied to the Weldon Amendment is the consequence of losing federal funding if a state does not comply. California could lose billions of dollars in federal funding if it is found in violation of the amendment, according to the report.

In December 2014, the California Catholic Conference filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights, which is tasked with enforcing the amendment. The department promised to open an investigation; but a year has gone by, and the department has not taken action, according to the report.

The report continues:

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell was asked about the situation at two separate congressional hearings in February 2015. She said that while she had to let the investigation run its course, she had asked the investigators to move “expeditiously.”

“The Office of Civil Rights knows this is an important issue, as you have said, and that time is of the essence,” Burwell told lawmakers.

That was 11 months ago.

With no results to speak of, Republican lawmakers are crying foul.

“I think that [President Obama] ought to go back and read the Constitution, because he is not upholding what has been passed by Congress,” said Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.). “Congress passed the law. He ought to enforce the law. That’s his job.”

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, said he had raised the issue with Burwell by phone, but that all he hears back is “they’re investigating.”

“They just blow you off, basically,” he added.

“OCR takes its responsibilities under the Weldon Amendment seriously and supports clear provider conscience clause protections,” HHS spokesman Ben Wakana said in a statement.  “OCR currently has open investigations related to complaints of Weldon Amendment violations. In line with OCR policy on open investigations, OCR is unable to comment further at this time because these investigations are ongoing.”

The California Catholic Conference also wrote a letter to Burwell in August, noting that “the handling of this matter has hardly been ‘expeditious,’” the letter stated.

In October, a group of California churches filed suit against the state with the pro-life legal group Alliance Defending Freedom. The lawsuit came after ADF and Life Legal Defense Foundation filed formal complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services against DMHC regarding California’s mandate and its violation of federal conscience law. Those came on the heels of a complaint filed directly with DMHC, which responded by affirming its decision to force all plans to cover all abortions without any explanation as to how that decision squares with the Constitution and contrasting federal law.

“Churches should not be forced to pay for the killing of innocent human life,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “The government has no right to demand that church health insurance plans contain coverage for abortion – something that violates these churches’ most sincerely held religious beliefs. California is violating the Constitution by strong-arming churches into having this coverage in their plans.”

ADF filed the lawsuit, Foothill Church v. Rouillard, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on behalf of Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, and The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch.