House Passes Bill to Stop Obama Admin From Forcing California Churches to Pay for Abortions

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 13, 2016   |   5:50PM   |   Washington, DC

Today the House of Representatives passed a key pro-life bill to protect the conscience rights of pro-life Americans so they are not forced to be involved with abortions by either paying for them or being required to assist in them as medical workers.

Today, the House voted 245 to 182 to vote for the Conscience Protection Act with Republicans voting 242-1 for it and Democrats voting 181-3 against it. Three Democrats voted in favor of the bill (Cuellar, Lipinski, Peterson), and one Republican (Hanna) voted against the bill.

In one of the most egregious examples of the problem the bill seeks to address, 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 last month.

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.

They also asked the Obama administration to uphold the Weldon Amendment — federal law that protects conscience rights. But, today, 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.

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As LifeNews reported, the Obama administration erroneously ruled that health insurance plans have no ability to exercise a moral opposition to funding abortions, and, therefore, California residents, churches and medical professionals have no right either.

Leading pro-life groups applauded the vote.

“State agencies in California and New York are mandating insurance coverage of abortion, and the Obama Administration recently made it clear that it will not enforce federal laws that prohibit such mandates,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. “The Conscience Protection Act will allow direct access to the federal courts for the victims of coercive pro-abortion government policies.”

During the debate on the bill, Speaker Paul Ryan discussed the need for it and the problematic California situation.

“No one should be forced to violate their conscience—least of all by the federal government. That’s all this bill says. The federal government—or anyone who receives taxpayer dollars—cannot discriminate against health care providers who do not perform abortions. And if they do discriminate, this bill says the victims will have two avenues of relief: Either, file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services. Or, file a civil suit in court. That’s all this bill does,” Ryan said.

He continued:

“Now, our opponents say that this kind of thing just doesn’t happen. Nobody in their right mind would force someone against their will to help with an abortion. Well, tell that to Cathy DeCarlo. She was a nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. And a few years ago, she was forced to help with an abortion.

“Mr. Speaker, this is not an isolated incident. There have been cases of nurses being suspended or threatened with firing solely for the offense of following their conscience. And now, the state of California requires all health insurance plans to cover abortion. So if you’re a church or a religious school, it doesn’t matter. You must cover this procedure. And if it violates your conscience, too bad.

“Mr. Speaker, this is a disturbing trend. And what’s even more disturbing is that the federal government has not been protecting people’s rights. There are already laws on the books to protect people’s conscience. But after Cathy DeCarlo filed a complaint to HHS, she waited three years for a resolution. And when she filed a lawsuit, an appeals court said she didn’t have standing and threw out her case. That’s why this bill makes it perfectly clear: People of faith have standing, and they deserve relief.

Other speakers called for President Obama to uphold his words spoken at Notre Dame in 2009, when he said that we should ‘honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion’ and sign it into law. However, Obama has issued a veto threat of the legislation.

Last week, in an address to the National Right to Life Convention, NRLC president Carol Tobias laid out the case for the vote.

As the Obama Administration has approached its end, President Obama and his appointees have become more and more brazen in trampling on the rule of law.

Where they have an ideological goal that Congress has not enacted into law, they manufacture their own laws, in the form of executive orders, and directives from various federal agencies. Where there is a law that they find ideologically distasteful, they refuse to enforce it, or they gut it by radical reinterpretation.

Two years ago, the California Department of Managed Care, issued a decree, mandating that nearly all health plans in the state must cover all abortions. Well, we said, they can’t do that, because since 2004 we have had a federal law, the Weldon Amendment, that says no state government that receives any federal Health and Human Services money – and of course may discriminate against any health care provider for refusing to participate in providing abortions. The law explicitly includes insurance coverage, and explicitly covers health plans.

Various churches and religiously affiliated schools filed complaints with the Obama Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), asking that the Administration enforce the federal law, and thereby compel California to withdraw the state mandate that was forcing these churches and schools to pay for the killing of unborn children.

For two years, the Administration did nothing – despite many urgings and proddings from members of Congress. Then, finally, on June 21, HHS took action.

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But it did not act to compel California to withdraw its abortion mandate. Instead the Administration sent letters to the people in California who had complained, announcing that no violation of federal law had occurred. The letters were written by a government lawyer whose previous job was vice-president of a center for pro-abortion legal activism. She announced that HHS had decided the Weldon Amendment only applied to those who file objections to abortion on “religious or moral grounds,” and said the department had decided that the insurance companies in California did not have such religion-based objections. The churches and religiously affiliated employers who filed the complaints did have religious objections, but they were not health care providers and therefore they were not covered by the law.

Now, there is no language whatsoever in the Weldon law that imposes a religious test, and the Weldon Amendment explicitly includes “health plan(s)” within its scope – so on its face, the California decree was as blatant a violation of the federal law as could be imagined. To avoid this conclusion, the Administration had to engage in blatant fabrication, in order to achieve its ideologically dictated end. And for good measure, they suggested that the Weldon law – which does no more than protect against government-compelled participation in the killing of unborn children – might be unconstitutional, a suggestion not supported by any federal court decision.

In the face of this outrage, Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, has announced that next Wednesday, July 13, the House will vote on legislation that would prevent states from requiring health care providers to participate in abortion. This legislation, the Conscience Protection Act, would prohibit any level of government from mandating that health care providers participate in abortion. It would protect individual health care providers, such as doctors and nurses, and also entities such as hospitals and health plans (and their clients). It provides for people who are affected by abortion mandates to file private lawsuits in federal courts – so the cooperation of ideologically hostile activists drawing paychecks at the federal Department of Human Services would no longer be necessary.

This legislation is urgently needed. An agency of the state of New York has already adopted an abortion mandate, similar to the California mandate, requiring small group employers to cover all kinds of abortion. And, on the very the same day that the Obama Administration gutted the Weldon Amendment, a court in Washington state ruled that public hospitals must provide abortions if they offer maternity care.

I urge you to visit the Legislative Action Center on our website at

From there, it is easy to send an email to your U.S. Representative, urging that he or she support the Conscience Protection Act when the House takes it up on Wednesday, July 13.

Because nobody should be forced to participate in the brutal act of abortion. Governments should never require doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurance plans, or employers who pay for insurance plans, to participate in abortion.