The conscience rights of those who operate churches organizations are at stake, after a federal judge in California ruled earlier this month that they’re still required to cover elective abortions in their insurance plans.
Jeremiah Galus, Legal Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the plaintiff churches in the case of Foothill Church v. Rouillard, said that they “are consulting with our clients about next steps,” after also noting that “the court’s decision ignores the longstanding freedom of faith communities to act consistently with their religious mission.”
California’s concerning requirement that churches run so counter to their Christian values and consciences has been an issue since 2014. Under the Affordable Care Act, the California Department of Managed Health Care was able to classify abortion as a “basic health service” and one which state insurance plans were required to cover, immediately. Even a the Health & Human Services Contraceptive Mandate, a troubling part of the ACA, had exemptions for churches, albeit flawed ones.
Other aspects of the ACA to do with conscience rights, including abortion; coverage of all kinds of contraception, such as those which can act as an abortifacient; and transgender surgeries, have been struck down by other federal courts, and even the U.S. Supreme Court.
The pro-choice Obama administration found that California’s abortion mandate did not violate the law, specifically the Weldon Amendment. Pro-lifers disagree however, and even the HHS Office of Civil Rights seems to be in conflict with its own decision, as evidenced by its web page on an “Overview of Federal Statutory Health Care Provider Conscience Protections.”
The Weldon Amendment is in part explained by how:
It provides that “[n]one of the funds made available in this Act [making appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education] may be made available to a Federal agency or program, or to a state or local government, if such agency, program, or government subjects any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”
About the Affordable Care Act, the HHS Office of Civil Rights claims:
The Affordable Care Act (Pub. L. No. 111-148 as amended by Pub. L. No. 111-152) includes new health care provider conscience protections within the health insurance Exchange program. Section 1303(b)(4) of the Act provides that “No qualified health plan offered through an Exchange may discriminate against any individual health care provider or health care facility because of its unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” A recent Executive Order affirms that under the Affordable Care Act, longstanding federal health care provider conscience laws remain intact, and new protections prohibit discrimination against health care facilities and health care providers based on their unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions. Executive Order 13535, “Ensuring Enforcement and Implementation of Abortion Restrictions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (March 24, 2010).
Despite such acknowledgments, the Office of Civil Rights ruled that California did not violate the Weldon Amendment, merely on the grounds of how the Weldon Amendment only protects insurance plans, and not purchasers.
A findings letter from June 2016 stated that “none of… the entities that are covered under the Weldon Amendment… objected to providing coverage for abortions.” As a result, the letter noted they were “closing its investigation of these complaints without further action.”
California has had a particular fixation with abortion and forcing these pro-choice views on others. Pregnancy centers have also sued over a state law forcing them to advertise for abortion in the referrals they are required to provide, despite their purpose of existing to offer life-affirming alternatives to abortion.
Pro-life journalist David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress, has also been targeted by California law for exposing Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation for allegedly profiting from the sale of aborted baby parts. Daleiden continues to face legal trouble in court, as his cases have been overseen by Judge William Orrick, who has personal ties to the abortion industry.
The state Board of Nursing, at the urging of pro-choice state legislatures, recently ordered Heartbeat International to “cease and desist” with its continuing education units on how to reverse the abortion pill process.
Pro-lifers who interpret the Weldon Amendment differently are hopeful the Trump administration will give further review. President Trump has also made it a campaign promise to repeal the ACA, though the most recent effort to do so failed in July.