Two weeks ago, abortion-rights groups and advocates as well as leaders of the Legislature’s Women’s Caucus were rejoicing. Along with employees at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) and Santa Clara University (SCU)—two Jesuit universities—they prevailed upon Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) to disallow insurers from dropping abortion coverage from LMU’s and SCU’s health insurance plans.
In turn, Brown prevailed upon the Director of the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), Michelle Rouillard, to find a way to derail the plans. And find a way Rouillard did, sending a letter to LMU and SCU insurers stating that their plans to drop abortion coverage from their health insurance plans for employees violate a 1975 California law requiring group health plans to cover all basic services defined, by the law, as "medically necessary." In addition, defining abortion as "a basic health care service," Rouillard wrote "the California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy. Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally."
Previously, LMU and SCU had planned to provide the coverage but backtracked, announcing last spring they would terminate the coverage in adherence with Catholic Church teaching. However, faculty members at both institutions protested. LMU’s administration responded by allowing employees to pay extra for abortion coverage through a private administrator.
Interestingly, DMHC had allowed the cutbacks in abortion coverage. And, thus, upon review of the relevant legal authorities, Rouillard wrote that DMHC
…concluded that it erroneously approved or did not object to such
discriminatory language in some evidence of coverage (EOC) filings.
The DMHC has performed a survey and has discovered that such
language is present in EOCs for products covering a very small fraction
of California health plan enrollees.
In sum, Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara universities must provide abortion coverage.
The Chief Counsel for Planned Parenthood of California, Beth Parker, couldn't have been more ebullient. She is quoted in the SFGate article as stating: "We're thrilled that the state is complying with California law and ensuring that women of California have access to all reproductive health services."
The ACLU of Northern California praised the outcome in a press release, stating:
The Department of Managed Health Care deserves applause because
in protecting abortion access, it conveys simple truths that have become
obscured in the political effort to stigmatize abortion: childbearing is a
personal decision, abortion is basic health care, and control of reproduction
is critical to women’s autonomy.
According to SFGate, LMU has not commented but SCU has reached out to its insurers and will be conferring with them to ensure that SCU's health plans will continue to be fully compliant with state and federal law.
Concurrently, President Obama—through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)--issued new rules in which religious colleges like LMU and SCU would be required to notify and explain their objections to providing contraceptive coverage. Upon receipt of that notification, HHS would contact insurance providers to provide contraceptive coverage to the employees of these colleges without involving those institutions directly.
This "olive branch" on the part of the Obama administration isn’t a solution at all.
According to a joint letter sent to DMHC by the Life Legal Defense Foundation and the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of the Cardinal Newman Society, the olive branch violates appropriations bills that bar federal funds from going to states or state agencies that have policies which discriminate against groups that do not want insurance to cover abortions. If DMHC does not uphold enforce federal law and reverse its positions, the groups threaten to take action to seek enforcement of the federal provisions.
More importantly, the Washington Times quotes Arina Grossu of the Family Research Council as stating: "This new proposed rule maintains the threat of crippling fines on nonprofits who stand up for their freedom of conscience. What remains an insulting accounting gimmick does not protect the rights of Americans with sincere conscientious objections."
Providing administrators at the nation’s Catholic universities and colleges—and, in particular, administrators at LMU and SCU—"an insulting accounting gimmick" may resolve the issue from their perspective. But what about upholding Catholic teaching? Paying for abortions, directly or indirectly, conflicts with Church teaching. In order to quell the stormy petrils, will those administrators allow the Obama administration to violate their freedom of religion?
It seems Governor Jerry Brown—a Catholic and former Jesuit seminarian—would be delighted with that politically expedient outcome.
Let the discussion begin...
To read Michelle Rouillard's letters, click on the following link:
To read the ACLU’s response:
To read the article in SFGate, click on the following link:
To read the new HHS regulations, click on the following link:
To read the Life Legal Defense Foundation letter, click on the following link:
To read the Washington Times article, click on the following link: