In California, Abortion Rights Trump Religious Freedom of Churches
Acton Institute Powerblog

In California, Abortion Rights Trump Religious Freedom of Churches

abortion-is-not-healthcareRemember the Hobby Lobby case when the Supreme Court ruled that an employer could not be required to provide employees with certain types of abortifacients if it was against their religious beliefs? Remember also how some people complained that such exemptions in health care plans should be allowed only for churches and religious ministries?

Apparently, the state government of California thinks that both of those claims are absurd. They think that every employer — including churches — should be required to pay for elective surgical abortions.

In August, California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) began sending notices to health insurance companies notifying them that they were required to cover the cost of abortions. The only exception allowed was that a health plan is not required to pay for abortions of a “viable fetus,” i.e., if there is a “reasonable likelihood of the fetus’ sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures.” There were no exemptions for organizations that might have a religious belief that forbids them from even indirectly paying for abortions. Even a pro-life group dedicated to opposing abortion would be required to cover abortions in the healthcare policies provided to their employees.

This wasn’t always the case. DMHC had previously given approval to Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente to offer plans that excluded abortions deemed not “medically necessary.” DMHC officials, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, have not explained why they overturned the exemption approvals given under the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The decision also applies to health care plans purchased by churches. According to World magazine, seven churches (Skyline Church in La Mesa, Foothill Church and Foothill Christian School in Glendora, Alpine Christian Fellowship in El Cajon, The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, City View Church in San Diego, Faith Baptist Church in Santa Barbara, and Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino) have responded by filing a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Under federal law, pro-life employers have the freedom to choose health insurance plans that do not conflict with their beliefs on the dignity of human life,” says Catherine Short, legal director for Life Legal Defense Foundation Legal Direct. “Already under Obamacare’s mandates, employers and individuals are required to purchase health insurance coverage they may not need or want. California cannot be allowed to discriminate against health plans that don’t cover elective abortions and force people to purchase coverage that conflicts with their convictions.”

The Weldon Amendment, adopted with each Health and Human Services appropriations act since 2005, allows the federal government to withhold funding from any state that doesn’t allow conscience objections in health plans. But though this is the law of the land, it has to be enforced by the same executive branch agency and presidential administration that has fought so hard to deny religious liberties in other situations. Will this time be different? Will the Obama administration obey the law and decide it’s finally time protect the religious liberty of American’s pro-life citizens?

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).