California Mandates that 2 Catholic Universities Include Abortion Coverage in their Employee Health Insurance Plans
by Jonathan Abbamonte
September 22, 2014
Imagine that as president of a private institution you receive a letter from your state government detailing that your health insurance plan must include coverage for elective abortion procedures. Imagine that despite your pleas for personal objections on religious or moral grounds that the state has “carefully considered all relevant aspects of state and federal law in reaching its position… that health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally” and thus your plan must include the “required abortion coverage.”
Unfortunately, this scenario is not imaginary. Recently, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the Life Legal Defense Foundation (LLDF) filed a complaint with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concerning the state of California’s mandate requiring two Catholic universities to provide health insurance to their employees, insurance that HHS says must cover elective abortion. California Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration had announced just a month ago that it was withdrawing its abortion exemption from Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University, and thereby any other religious non-profit or business that does not fit California’s razor thin definition of what qualifies a “religious employer.” Apparently a university run by the Jesuits, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church, is not “religious” enough. As reported by California Lawyer the President of Santa Clara University, Michael Engh, in a letter to the university faculty communicated that “Santa Clara University cannot be true to its Jesuit Catholic identity and willingly offer, through its health care programs, financial support… [for] abortion that is not medically necessary.”
On August 22nd Shelley Rouillard director of California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) informed the universities through their insurance providers that they would no longer be exempt from providing abortion coverage through their employee health insurance programs. DMHC points to the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975 which they say “requires health plans to cover abortion as a basic health care service.”
That is not the opinion of Catherine W. Short, an attorney and legal director of Life Legal Defense Foundation. According to Short, as reported in California Lawyer, “Knox-Keene does not require coverage for abortion. Knox-Keene says nothing about abortion.” While it is true that California’s Constitution guarantees the “right” for a woman to choose to abort her child, it says nothing about forcing institutions or individuals from being complicit in anyone’s choice to have an abortion. In fact, federal law seems to dictate otherwise. The state of California receives billions of dollars in federal subsidies for education, health and employment every year. These appropriations are bound by the Weldon Amendment which prohibits the use of federal funds from discriminating against any institution which opposes abortion coverage. There is little doubt that DMHC is bound by the Weldon Amendment, ADF and LLDF argue, as indicated by the State of California’s failed attempt to circumvent the amendment through its lawsuit against the U.S. government.
The decision by the DMHC to single out Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount universities is perplexing given that even employees of the State of California are exempt from having to pay for abortion services in their employee health plans according to the Cardinal Newman Society, which has been reporting on the case and which joined in a letter issued by ADF and LLDF to the DMHC.
Sadly, this is not the first time that the state of California has attempted to abridge religious liberty in the name of “reproductive rights” and universal access to abortion and contraception. In 2004, the Supreme Court of the State of California ruled in Catholic Charities of Sacramento, Inc. v Superior Court of Sacramento County that the Women’s Contraception Equity Act (WCEA) does not violate religious liberty. The Act stipulates that any entity not considered a “religious employer” must provide health insurance that includes contraceptive coverage.
The definition of what qualifies as a “religious employer” in WCEA is so narrow that Catholic Charities, an explicitly faith based charity organization focused on combating poverty and serving over nine million Americans per year, did not qualify. As a result, the State of California was able to succeed in silencing the religious objections of Catholic Charities.
They have succeeded once. They have succeeded again by forcing Santa Clara and Loyola, and all religious non-profits in California, to provide elective abortion coverage, despite religious objections. It is time we realize that religious liberty in America is under attack.