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Pro-lifers protest requiring churches to cover abortions

WASHINGTON (BP) — Pro-life advocates are protesting a new Obama administration decision that permits the state of California to force even churches to cover abortions in their health insurance plans.

The criticisms, and calls for Congress to defend conscience protections, came after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced June 21 it had rejected complaints from churches and others that California had violated federal law by requiring their health plans to pay for elective abortions.

The Obama administration “is once again making a mockery of the law, and this time in the most unimaginable way,” said Casey Mattox, senior counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), in a written statement. “Churches should never be forced to cover elective abortion in their insurance plans…. But the state of California has ordered every insurer, even those insuring churches, to cover elective abortions in blatant violation of the law.”

The action continues the administration’s “pattern of enforcing laws it wants to enforce, refusing to enforce others, and inventing new interpretations of others out of whole cloth,” Mattox said.

Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., a pro-life champion in Congress, said this White House “has again shown blatant disregard for the rule of law. This decision illustrates the far reaches of Obama’s radical pro-abortion ideology — forcing churches and communities of faith that have pro-life convictions to participate in and pay for a practice that dismembers and chemically poisons unborn children.”

The federal law in question is the Weldon Amendment, an annual rider since 2004 to the HHS appropriations measure that bars funds for a federal program or state or local government that “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 amendment is named after Rep. Dave Weldon, R.-Fla., a former, seven-term congressman who sponsored it.

In its June 21 letter, HHS’ Office of Civil Rights said each of the health insurers qualified as a “health care entity” but the complainants — seven churches, a religious organization and the employees of a faith-based university — covered by the insurance plans did not.

The 2014 directive from the California Department of Managed Health Care requiring the health plans of churches and others to cover abortions violates the First Amendment, as well as the Weldon Amendment, Mattox said.

Spokesmen for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said the HHS ruling “fails to respect not only the rights to life and religious freedom, but also the will of Congress and the rule of law.”

“Even those who disagree on the issue of life should be able to respect the conscience rights of those who wish not to be involved in supporting abortion,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore in a statement. Dolan is chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, while Lori chairs the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

Smith, as well as Dolan and Lori, called on Congress to approve legislation providing a right of action in defense of conscience protections in court.

ADF and the Life Legal Defense Foundation, a California-based organization, represented the seven churches and employees of Loyola Marymount University in their complaints to the state of California.