Calif. Bishops Launch Challenge Against State Abortion Mandate
The state’s recent order requiring two Catholic colleges to cover abortion in their health-insurance plans is a ‘flagrant violation of their civil rights,’ according to the bishops.
LOS ANGELES — The California government “directly targeted” two Catholic universities and violated federally guaranteed civil rights by ordering their health-insurance plans to cover abortions, the California Catholic Conference has charged.
“This is a coercive and discriminatory action by the state of California,” Bishop Robert McElroy, an auxiliary bishop of San Francisco, said Oct. 1.
On Aug. 22, Michelle Rouillard, director of California’s Department of Managed Health Care, announced that health plans restricting abortion coverage were illegal under state law.
Bishop McElroy, chairman of the state Catholic conference’s Institutional Concerns Committee, characterized the decision as a demand “directly targeted at Catholic institutions like Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University, along with other California employers and citizens.”
“It is a flagrant violation of their civil rights and deepest moral convictions and is government coercion of the worst kind.”
The Catholic conference has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights. That office is responsible for applying a federal law known as the Weldon Amendment, which bars states that accept federal funds from discriminating against institutions and health-care entities that do not provide coverage of abortion or refer for abortions.
The Weldon Amendment means that the California government’s actions could have repercussions for its treasury.
The California Catholic Conference’s complaint is the latest development in the contentious issue of including abortion coverage in Catholic colleges’ health-insurance plans.
In the autumn of 2013, both Loyola Marymount University and Santa Clara University announced that they planned to stop paying for employees’ elective abortions. They said their insurers, Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente, had secured approval from state officials.
Groups such as Renew LMU, which aims for the renewal of Catholic identity at the university, backed efforts to implement pro-life policies, as did some faculty and staff.
However, the policy changes drew strong opposition from pro-abortion politicians and advocacy groups, as well as some faculty and staff at the historically Jesuit Catholic schools.
Loyola Marymount Will Comply
Although the California government’s effort to mandate abortion coverage in health-insurance plans is being contested, Loyola Marymount University has now said it will comply with the ruling and cover elective abortions for faculty and staff under its insurance plan as of Aug. 22.
Rebecca Chandler, the university’s vice president for human resources, told faculty and staff in a Sept. 27 email that the university’s insurance would cover all procedures deemed medically necessary, including elective abortions, the campus newspaper the Los Angeles Loyolan reports.
Loyola Marymount University confirmed to CNA Oct. 1 that the changes had been made to the university’s insurance plan, but declined to comment further.
David Luke, a university alumnus and member of Renew LMU, told CNA Oct. 1 that his organization “stands with the California Catholic bishops” and supports their federal complaint against the state.
He encouraged Loyola Marymount University to join the federal complaint or start or join a self-insurance plan not governed by the California Department of Managed Health Care.
Said Duke, “It is our hope that LMU will remain faithful to its Catholic identity.”