In 2014, California started forcing almost all health plans in the state to cover elective abortions, even late-term abortions. Religious employers in California that offer group health plans to their employees lodged an objection with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has oversight responsibility for enforcing federal conscience laws. On June 21, 2016, HHS declared, contrary to the plain meaning of current federal law that the California Department of Managed Health Care can continue to force all health plans under its jurisdiction to cover elective abortions.
What is more, other states such as Washington and New York may be following California’s lead. These actions clearly violate a federal law known as the Weldon Amendment, which forbids governments receiving federal health care funds to discriminate against those who decline to take part in abortion or abortion coverage. Unfortunately, this amendment has limitations that may make it difficult to enforce.
The Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which contains the policy of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA), addresses shortcomings in the Weldon Amendment by closing loopholes and allowing victims of discrimination a “right of action” to defend their rights in court.
For an updated Action Alert on the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 please see: humanlifeactioncenter.org/action-alert/urge-support-conscience-protection-act-2016
On June 21, 2016, the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) closed its investigation of the California mandate by concluding that no violations of the Weldon Amendment had occurred and no further action would be taken.
In a July 7, letter to Congress Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop William Lori, chairing the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty reacted to the decision:
… the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared, contrary to the plain meaning of current federal law, that California’s Department of Managed Health Care can continue forcing all health plans under its jurisdiction to cover elective abortions, including late-term abortions.
For the full text of the letter see: humanlifeactioncenter.org/sites/default/files/Conscience-Protection-Act-Dolan-Lori-Ltr-to-Congress-07-07-16_0.pdf
For a USSCB fact sheet about the refusal of HHS OCR to uphold Federal law and enforce the Weldon Amendment see: www.humanlifeactioncenter.org/sites/default/files/HHS-Refuses-to-Enforce-Weldon-Amendment-FACT-SHEET.pdf
On March 22, Rep. John Fleming, MD, (R-LA) and Rep. Vicki Hartzler, (R-MO) introduced the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 (H.R. 4828). The measure has 103 other cosponsors and was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
In a parliamentary move, the text of H.R. 4828 replaced the existing contents of S. 304, an unrelated bill previously passed by the Senate.
Committee: Forum on Conscience Protection On July 8, the Energy and Commerce Committee hosted a special panel forum on the protection of conscience rights of health care entities that do not participate in abortion. For a full video of the forum see: https://energycommerce.house.gov/hearings-and-votes/event/forum-conscience-protections
On July 13, 2016, the newly re-numbered Conscience Protection Act of 2016 (S. 304) was brought to the House floor.
A motion to recommit the bill back to committee was defeated 182-yes, 244-no, 7-not voting (Roll Call 442). “No” was a pro-life vote.
The House then passed S. 304, 245-yes, 182-no, 6-not voting (Roll Call 443). “Yes” was a pro-life vote.
In a July 13, statement commending the passage, Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori said:
“We're grateful to House Speaker Paul Ryan for bringing the Conscience Protection Act to a vote, to all the co-sponsors for their leadership, and to those members of both parties who support the civil right of conscience."
"Even those who disagree on the life issue should be able to respect the conscience rights of those who wish not to be involved in supporting abortion."
"We now urge Congress to move this vital legislation forward as part of this year's must-pass appropriations package."
For the full statement see: usccb.org/news/2016/16-090.cfm
On May 12, 2016, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) introduced S. 2927, identical to H.R. 4828. The measure was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
The campaign to coerce everyone to accept abortion as a normal part of health care has accelerated under the Affordable Care Act.
- For a letter to the House by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop William Lori urging support for the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, see: humanlifeactioncenter.org/sites/default/files/Conscience-Protection-Act-Dolan-Lori-Ltr-to-Congress-07-07-16_0.pdf
- For the article, "Time to Speak Up for Conscience Rights" by Greg Schleppenbach, Associate Director for Pro-Life Activities, USCCB, see: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/time-to-speak-up-for-conscience-rights.cfm (link is external)
- For a letter to the Senate from Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori urging support for the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, see: www.humanlifeactioncenter.org/sites/default/files/conscience-protection-act-dolan-lori-letter-to-senate-05-16-16.pdf
- For a joint letter from the USCCB and twenty-five other major pro-life, religious, and health care organizations urging support for H.R. 4828, see: humanlifeactioncenter.org/sites/default/files/Joint-Ltr-Conscience-Protection-Act-2016.pdf
- For a letter from Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop William Lori, urging House members to support and co-sponsor H.R. 4828, see: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/Conscience-Protection-Act-Dolan-Lori-Ltr-to-Congress-03-31-16.pdf (link is external)
- For a Questions and Answers fact sheet on the need for Conscience Protection Act, see: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/The-Need-for-The-Abortion-Non-Discrimination-Act.pdf (link is external)
- For more information on the California state action, see: www.cacatholic.org/index.php/about/bishops-of-california/922-catholic-bishops-file-federal-complaint-against-state (link is external)