On June 22nd, I was part of a group of lawmakers led by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy who met with Health and Human Services (HHS )Secretary Sylvia Burwell and HHS Director of the Office for Civil Rights Jocelyn Samuels to respectfully ask why the Administration has refused to enforce the Weldon federal conscience law in the case of California’s two-year-old draconian, coercive abortion order.
The state of California forces all insurance plans under its purview—and the people and institutions that pay the premiums—to subsidize abortion on demand.
This isn’t about Obamacare and the massive taxpayer funding for abortion embedded—according to GAO—in over a thousand insurance plans on the exchanges, which was contrary to what the President had promised in a joint session of Congress in 2009.
No, this is about private health insurance plans of Catholic dioceses, religious schools and others who have been ordered to violate their deeply held convictions and pay for abortion.
In good faith, they filed complaints pursuant to the law with the HHS Office of Civil Rights seeking relief. They were wrongfully denied on June 21st.
“It is shocking that HHS has allowed the State of California to force all employers – even churches – to fund and facilitate elective abortions in their health insurance plans,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
Yet, the Weldon federal conscience law authored by former Congressman Dave Weldon of Florida and continuously in effect for over a decade—is explicit and comprehensive. It says in pertinent part that it is illegal for any “discrimination” against any health care entity “on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of or refer for abortions.” The law’s definition of health care entity explicitly includes “a health insurance plan.”
Despite the absolute clarity of Weldon in extending Federal conscience protection to health insurance plans, HHS’s Burwell and Samuels insisted that health insurance plans weren’t covered by Weldon—they said the insurance companies were covered but weren’t objecting (which is irrelevant)—and on that point concluded that the injured parties including the Catholic Church lacked standing to obtain relief.
The Obama Administration’s action here is not only unfair and unjustified—it grossly violates the rule of law. It makes a mockery of President Obama’s 2009 Notre Dame speech in which he said “Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion.” Sadly, that hasn’t happened.
The Conscience Protection Act of 2016 authored by Congresswomen Diane Black seeks to end discrimination against people, plans and providers for not being involved in abortion.
The bill says that the Federal Government or any state or local government that receives federal assistance may not penalize, retaliate against or otherwise discriminate against those who do not perform, refer for, pay for or otherwise participate in abortion.
The crux of the legislation authorizes any person or entity adversely affected an opportunity in a civil action in the courts to obtain appropriate relief—in other words, a private right of action, currently missing in federal law.
The Conscience Protection Act is urgent and necessary because the Obama Administration has demonstrated its unwillingness to protect the conscience rights of many Americans.
The House of Representatives votes (Wednesday July 13th) on the legislation.
Chris Smith is an 18-term Republican congressman from New Jersey.