One of the nation’s top civil-liberty advocates is accusing the Obama administration of twisting words to defend a California state mandate that forces churches to fund abortion in violation of the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.
The Alliance Defending Freedom is responding to a letter from the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that has reinterpreted the Weldon Amendment, which is designed to protect those who want health plans that do not cover abortion.
Several churches have filed lawsuits, but the Obama administration made clear in this week’s letter that it won’t consider the plaintiffs’ religious liberties and that the inquiry has been closed.
Casey Mattox, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is defending the churches, said the Obama administration has gone far beyond what the law allows.
“The Obama administration is once again making a mockery of the law, and this time in the most unimaginable way,” he said. “Churches should never be forced to cover elective abortion in their insurance plans, and for 10 years the Weldon Amendment has protected the right to have plans that do not include coverage for abortion-on-demand.
“But the state of California has ordered every insurer, even those insuring churches, to cover elective abortions in blatant violation of the law,” he said.
“The Obama administration’s refusal to enforce this law continues its pattern of enforcing laws it wants to enforce, refusing to enforce others, and inventing new interpretations of others out of whole cloth. We will continue to defend churches from this clear violation of the First Amendment and federal law and call on Congress to hold the Department of Health and Human Services accountable.”
Steve Ertelt at LifeNews.com said the Obama administration has it wrong.
“OCR’s decision is based on a flawed reading of the Weldon amendment. They argue that the Weldon amendment only protects health insurance plans, and not the purchasers of such plans, and state that the insurance companies have not complained. To say that a previously existing plan that excluded abortion must be discontinued is discriminatory against the life-affirming abortion-free plan. Whether the insurance company objects or not, the mandate is discriminatory.”
He noted that OCR claims the insurance companies “do not hold a religious or moral objection to covering objection.”
But that’s beside the point, he said.
“The Weldon amendment is not limited to religious or moral objections. It is not even based on an objection being raised. It simply states no funds may be made available to a government that subjects a health care entity (health plan in this case) to discrimination on the basis that the entity ‘does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortion.'”
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, told LifeNews.com, “Nearly two years after California imposed its draconian mandate that requires all insurance companies to pay for abortion the Obama administration has reached a new low – reinterpreting the Weldon amendment to allow the mandate to continue.
“This means that Californians, including churches, will continue to be forced to pay for elective abortions in their insurance plans.”
He said the Weldon Amendment “protects against state-imposed abortion mandates. But Obama’s administration has again shown blatant disregard for the rule of law. This decision illustrates the far reaches of Obama’s radical pro-abortion ideology – forcing churches and communities of faith that have pro-life convictions to participate in and pay for a practice that dismembers and chemically poisons unborn children.”
The legal actions brought so far against the forced abortion funding plan have come from Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch and several others.
WND reported in February that the fight in California was just one of several ways through which the Obama administration is attacking faith organizations with objections to killing unborn children.
The highest profile case was brought by the Catholic charity Little Sisters of the Poor, run by nuns who operate homes for the elderly worldwide. The case already has been to the U.S. Supreme Court, which asked both sides whether a compromise could be reached.
ADF and another activist organization, the Life Legal Defense Foundation, started the battle in 2014 by filing formal complaints with DHHS over the new California interpretation of the law.
Analysts explained that what California did was simply to re-define “basic health care services” to include voluntary and elective abortion as part of what all health coverage must include, even though that had not before been included.
Calfornia’s move immediately drew the scorn of WND columnist Chuck Norris.
He wrote: “Of course, federal and state assaults on religious liberty are not new. As with the case of Hobby Lobby and others, however, this aggressive assault against churches on the issue of abortion funding is proof that there is no sacred stone that will be left unturned by Obamacare and secular progressives. This new health-care law doesn’t just attack and overthrow churches but every last Christian who financially supports them.”
Regarding the California move, he wrote, “They have learned well from their White House counterpart how to completely disregard the U.S. Constitution, other apropos laws and any lawmakers or citizens that interfere with their personal expedience and progressive agendas.”
WND reported when a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights also warned of California’s move.
Commissioner Peter Kirsanow, who explained he was writing as “one member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and not on behalf of the commission as a whole,” told officials their work is threatening the religious liberty of employers.
Kirsanow wrote to California officials concerning a rule from the Department of Managed Health Care that all employers, including churches, pay for elective abortions in their health insurance plans.
Kirsanow told Shelley Rouillard of the California agency that while the Supreme Court has ruled women have a “right” to abortion, “their fellow citizens will not be required to pay for their abortions.”
“California is displaying … contempt for religious liberty,” Kirsanow wrote, referencing a state regulation that appears to violate the federal Weldon Amendment. The amendment prevents federal tax dollars from subsidizing a state that displays disregard for religious liberty by forcing health care entities to support abortion.
He said California should forfeit federal monies because of its move.
“What California may not do is take billions of dollars in federal money while flouting a federal statute that forbids it from discriminating against individuals and organizations that do not wish to pay for or facilitate abortions,” he said.