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Calif. Says Catholic Colleges’ Health Plans Must Include Abortion Coverage


The Chronicle of Higher Education. August 25, 2014.

California’s health department has reversed an earlier decision that had exempted two Roman Catholic universities from a state law that requires employee health-insurance plans to cover most abortions, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. But the Cardinal Newman Society and two advocacy groups that oppose abortion have urged the department to retract its latest decision, warning that it violates federal law and puts federal funds for California at risk.

A 1975 state law requires group health plans to cover all basic health-care services, which it defines as “medically necessary” services. But the state later approved plans offered by Loyola Marymount University, in Los Angeles, and Santa Clara University that denied coverage for “elective” abortions and allowed it only for abortions needed to save a woman’s life or prevent serious health damage.

In a letter released last week, Michelle Rouillard, director of California’s Department of Managed Health Care, said that abortion “is a basic health-care service” and that “all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.” She directed insurance companies to review all health plans, including those her department had previously approved, to make sure they complied with the law.

In response, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Life Legal Defense Foundation said in a letter to Ms. Rouillard on Friday that federal law “prevents California from mandating that a health-insurance plan include abortion coverage.” The groups’ letter, signed by their directors and on behalf of the Cardinal Newman Society, cites a federal provision known as the Weldon Amendment, first enacted in 2005 and most recently renewed this past January, which states that no funds appropriated for the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services can be made available to any federal, state, or local agency or program that discriminates against health-care entities that do not “provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”

If the California department does not reverse its decision, the groups state, they will file a complaint asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to enforce the Weldon Amendment.