Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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California Could Force Abortion Coverage at Catholic Universities, Violating Federal Law

Loyola MarymountAs reported yesterday by the San Francisco Chronicle and earlier by California Lawyer Magazine, California’s health care agency is conducting “an in-depth analysis of the issues surrounding coverage for abortion services under California law,” in reaction to last year’s decisions by Loyola Marymount University (LMU) and Santa Clara University (SCU) to end payments for employee health insurance coverage of elective abortion.

Spurred on by disgruntled faculty within the universities, together with Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, the California Department of Managed Health Care appears poised to define elective abortion as a “medically necessary” procedure that even religious nonprofits must cover in their employee benefit plans.

But Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, warns that this could violate the Hyde-Weldon Amendment to the federal government’s Health and Human Services budget, which states:

None of the funds made available in this Act may be 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.

The law defines the term “health care entity” to include health insurance plans and HMOs.  California takes billions of dollars each year in federal funds, including most of its $136.7 billion budget for health and human services, which may be jeopardized if it prevents Catholic agencies from obtaining morally acceptable health plans.

“California is on the verge of cheating American taxpayers while violating federal law, all for the outrageous purpose of forcing California’s employers—even Catholic educators—to pay for insurance coverage of elective abortion,” said Patrick J. Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society.  “Catholics urgently need to oppose this tyranny and discrimination, and demand our rights to religious freedom under the First Amendment.  Governor Jerry Brown must know that we will not stand for this.”

Catholics must look inward, too, for solutions to the threats against religious freedom, he said.

“Given the state of affairs in California, every Catholic school, college and other nonprofit—including LMU and Santa Clara—should look into self-funded insurance plans that are federally regulated,” Reilly urged.  “And the rest of us can pray that these Jesuit universities remain steadfast and take additional steps to conform to Catholic teaching, despite intense opposition and discrimination.”

Since 1975, California law has been murky on the question of whether elective abortion could be understood to be “medically necessary” and therefore mandatory in employee health plans—despite the fact that “elective abortion” is, by definition, nearly always chosen for non-medical reasons.  In 2012, the California Department of Managed Health Care allowed a policy change submitted by Kaiser Permanente, which dropped coverage for “voluntary termination of pregnancy.”  Anthem got approval for a similar plan.

Those policies went undisputed until last August, when The Cardinal Newman Society and Professor James Hanink inquired about the LMU’s employee benefits in preparation for an exposé, and the University quickly announced that it had stopped paying for elective abortion coverage.  LMU’s board of trustees tried to appease upset employees by offering supplemental abortion coverage at employee expense, but critics vocally opposed the change in employee benefits, which was repeated soon thereafter by Santa Clara University.

While Loyola Marymount’s policy change takes effect this year, Santa Clara’s policy could still be blocked if California decides that all abortions can be deemed “medically necessary.”

Both universities said that their religious principles factored heavily into the policy changes. “Our core commitments as a Catholic university are incompatible with the inclusion of elective abortion in the University’s health plans,” said the Santa Clara president’s office.

Meanwhile, both universities and many Catholic agencies continue to be coerced by California state law and the Obama administration’s federal “HHS mandate” to violate Catholic teaching by providing contraceptive services in their employee health plans.

Contact information for the Office of the Governor of California is available here.

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

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