Issues

HHS Office for Civil Rights issues violation to California for forcing insurers to cover abortion

California

On January 24th, the day of the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., remembering the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the U.S. and which has a death toll of over 60 million preborn children, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced that the HHS Office for Civil Rights has issued a violation to the state of California for its abortion coverage mandate. A press release from HHS notes:

OCR is issuing a Notice of Violation to the state of California, formally notifying California that it cannot impose universal abortion coverage mandates on health insurance plans and issuers in violation of federal conscience laws.  California has deprived over 28,000 people of plans that did not cover elective abortion, but now must cover abortion due to California’s mandate.

OCR says California violated the federal Weldon Amendment, engaging in “unlawful discrimination” in forcing health plan issuers to cover abortion in all insurance plans in the state, beginning in 2014. Two complaints were filed against the mandate, by two religious organizations — Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit and Skyline Wesleyan Church.

READ: California governor wants a ‘no-kill’ state… for animals, not for people

The press release also notes that if California has not responded with compliance after 30 days, “OCR will forward the Notice of Violation and the evidence supporting OCR’s findings in this matter to the HHS funding components from which California receives funding for appropriate action under applicable grants and contracts regulations.  This action may ultimately result in limitations on continued receipt of certain HHS funds.”

“This is not the first time OCR has found California to be in violation of federal conscience statutes,” the press release continues. “In January 2019, OCR found that California violated the Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments when it subjected pregnancy resource centers in the state to potential fines and discrimination for refusing to post notices referring for free or low-cost abortions.”

On a conference call today, OCR’s Director Roger Severino stated, “The law says you cannot force people to participate, pay for, or cover abortions against their will…. We have given them 30 days to come into compliance or risk losing significant federal funding. The ball is now in their court. We hope they do the right thing, and any other state that has followed in California’s footsteps are now being put on notice by this action that if they do the same thing as California they should expect similar treatment, because we are dedicated to enforcing our conscience religious freedom laws for everybody because that is what the law demands and that is what the people want.”

Severino added, “You don’t force people to… pay for the taking of human life. That principle has been ignored for far too long and is being vindicated with the actions we have taken today.”

Alison Centofante, Live Action’s Director of External Affairs, responded to the news, saying:

Sadly, California has been forcing all state-regulated insurance to fund the taking of innocent, preborn human life in their health care plans – regardless of conscientious objection – with impunity. Now, thanks to the Department of Health and Human Services, the state of California will have to answer for that violation of federal law. The Weldon Amendment has long prohibited discrimination against organizations that do not wish to fund abortion in their insurance plans, and today we have an administration willing to enforce it. California has no business promoting abortion in this or any way and no one should be made to participate in this grave human rights abuse.

See more here about HHS’ efforts to protect the conscience rights of Americans.

Editor’s Note, 1/29/20: Added Live Action response.

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