On Aug. 22, 2014, the California Department for Managed Health Care (DMHC) mandated all employers who provide health insurance to cover elective abortions, including churches. Almost six years later on Jan. 24, 2020, by a Department of Health and Human Services dedicated to conscience protections, California was notified they have 30 days to end their mandate or risk losing federal funding.
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR), announced an action to protect human life and the conscience rights of all Americans,” said the office in a statement. HHS formally notified California “that it cannot impose universal abortion coverage mandates on health insurance plans and issuers in violation of federal conscience laws.”
More specifically, it can no longer get away with violating the Weldon Amendment, which prohibits states that receive federal funding from compelling health-care plans to fund abortion.
California was previously well in line with the Constitution as far as religious exemptions go. So what prompted DMHC to coerce faith-based universities and churches into paying for abortion? A good place to always start in these cases is with America’s abortion political machine: Planned Parenthood For America.
Indeed, Planned Parenthood must have realized these religious exemptions were hurting their bottom line, and in March of that year began contacting Californian bureaucrats about the “issue.” Six months before the state issued their mandate, Planned Parenthood Legislative Advocate Brianna Pittman emailed a California Health and Human Services (CHHS) employee about “pursing an administrative solution, in lieu of legislation,” demanding the administration agree to not approving “any further plans that exclude coverage for abortion.”
As a result, churches like Calvary Chapel Chino Hills gave up their health-care plans entirely. Pastor Jack Hibbs told Tony Perkins, “Eighty of our employees, including myself, lost our health care coverage because we could not receive offerings from the church family on Sunday and turn right around and designate portions of that gift to God to … slaughtering babies.”
Planned Parenthood kickstarted the state’s attack on religious liberty and conscience protections, but it was the Obama administration’s HHS who sustained it for the following three years.
By November 2014, 132 House representatives signed a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell asking for an investigation. For nearly two years, Burwell continued to pay lip service to Congress’ questions in committee hearings and in formal complaints, but HHS’s “investigation” remained unresolved. HHS repeatedly promised to respond “expeditiously.” After 20 months, HHS released the results of its investigation, stating it found no violation and would close its investigation of the complaints without further action.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other members met with Burwell, sent more letters, and held more hearings, demanding answers on how HHS reconciled California’s mandate with the Weldon amendment. A year later, in July 2016, the House passed the Conscience Protection Act, only to hear President Obama say he would veto the bill if it reached his desk because it “would have the consequence of limiting women’s health care choices.”
Shortly after the inauguration of President Donald Trump in 2017, McCarthy and colleagues began meeting with new HHS Secretary Tom Price on looking into the Weldon amendment violations. By January of 2018, the HHS Office for Civil Rights announced the opening of the new Division on Conscience and Religious Liberty, and a new proposed rule protecting Americans from being coerced into participating in activities that violate their consciences, such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide.
In 2019, Trump’s HHS, led by Secretary Alex Azar, began enforcing the Weldon amendment and conscience-based objections for the first time in other states like Hawaii and Vermont. OCR found California guilty for discriminating against pregnancy resource centers who refused to post notices referring for abortion.
Last week, after it was announced California had 30 days to comply before losing federal HHS funds, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”
After pursuing protections for both American civil liberties and the unborn in California since the 2014 mandate, McCarthy told The Federalist that “even if California’s leadership won’t acknowledge our country’s most vulnerable population, it is well past time they start to comply with federal law.”