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California to force Catholic universities to buy elective abortion insurance

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In a disturbing reminder of the threat of religious liberty in the nation, the state of California today reversed a decision which had allowed two Jesuit  Catholic universities to exclude paying for elective abortion coverage in their health insurance place. Instead, California decided the rights of those “needing” an abortion supersede those of religious conviction.

Both Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University had elected to offer insurance plans that were consistent with their pro-life values and did not pay for abortion coverage, citing their religious convictions. Today the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) reversed its decision and said that “abortion is a basic health care service” and even Catholic institutions must provide it because “the exclusions violate a 1975 state law that requires group health plans to cover all basic services – defined, by the law, as those that are ‘medically necessary.'”

Though DMHC director, Michelle Rouillard says abortion is basic healthcare that even Catholics must be forced to provide, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) says these strong-arm tactics are not legal. In a letter to the California DMHC, on behalf of the Cardinal Newman Society, the Life Legal Defense Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom said:

“The DMHC decision apparently rests on two untenable positions. The first is the self‐evidently false proposition that all abortions, including elective abortions, are ‘medically necessary’ and thus must be covered pursuant to the Knox‐Keene Act. In the context of abortion, ‘medically necessary’ and ‘elective’ are antonyms. Second, the decision asserts that the California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy. The California Constitution, as currently interpreted, prohibits the state from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy, by withholding funding for abortions. CDRR v. Myers, 29 Cal.3d 252 (1981). This decision does not prohibit private actors such as religious employers from deciding what services its employee health insurance policies will cover.”

“The DMHC’s action is a clear violation of the Weldon Amendment and, if not reversed, could trigger loss of funding to the entire state and its departments… If DMHC does not reverse its decision, we are prepared to file complaints with the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services.”

Santa Clara University president, Michael Engh explained last year, “Our core commitments as a Catholic university are incompatible with the inclusion of elective abortion in the university’s health plan.” But abortion advocates didn’t care about Catholic convictions in private Catholic universities, and they cried foul.

Today California made up its own rules for the game, but ADF contends the real foul is on the part of the state, not the Catholics who have a right to exercise their convictions in a private, religious organization.

But ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matthew Bowman said today, “Faith-based organizations should be free to operate according to the faith they espouse and live out on a daily basis.”

Life Legal Defense Foundation Director Catherine Short said:

“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. 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.”

Whether or not Catholics will be allowed to stand by their convictions in the state of California, which is, ironically, governed by Jerry Brown who attended a Jesuit seminary himself, remains to be seen, but ADF and the Life Legal Defense Foundation say they will fight for the rights of Catholics in their own institutions to live by the Catholic convictions they espouse.

You may read the text of ADF’s full letter here.

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