California Lawmakers Reverse Decision, Force Christian Universities to Cover Abortions

( [email protected] ) Aug 25, 2014 02:15 PM EDT
Gov. Jerry Brown's administration on Friday announced that health insurance companies in California can no longer deny coverage for abortions after pro-choice advocates protested a prior ruling that allowed Catholic Universities to refuse funding for such procedures.
Pro-abortion advocates demonstrate outside the federal courthouse in Los Angeles (Mark Ralston via Getty Images)

Anti-abortion groups are calling for legal action after state insurance officials ruled in a reversal of a policy allowing two Catholic Universities to drop elective abortions from their employee health plans based on religious grounds.

On Friday, California's Department of Managed Health Care, which oversees HMOs, issued letters to seven insurance companies saying refusing to pay for any abortion, whether medically necessary or not, violates the state constitution and a 1975 state law.

"All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,'' department director Michelle Rouillard wrote, adding that the decision becomes effective immediately

"All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally."

According to the Huffington Post, Jesuit-run Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University told employees last fall that they would no longer pay for elective abortions, but said faculty and staff members could pay for supplemental coverage that would be provided by a third party.

After university employees and abortion-rights groups protested and lobbied the women' caucus of the California Legislature, Gov. Jerry Brown decided to reverse the department's determination.

Two groups that oppose abortion, the Life Legal Defense Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom, sent a letter to Rouillard on Friday saying that under federal law California cannot force employers to cover elective abortions. They also announced a decision to file a civil rights complaint with the federal government if the new mandate was not reversed.

"Pro-life employers have the freedom to choose health insurance plans that do not conflict with their beliefs on the dignity of human life," Life Legal Defense Foundation Legal Director Catherine Short said. "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."

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, also called the state's action "morally obscene" and said the universities should file religious-freedom suits.

"Paying for abortions is in direct conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church,'' Donohue said in the statement.

"[Faith-based universities] have a right and a duty to uphold the tenets of their faith in everything they do."

Spokespeople for both universities are currently conferring with their insurers, Anthem Blue Cross of California, and Kaiser Permanente, about the decision in order to ensure that the plans at the schools are fully compliant with state and federal law.