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The California Catholic Conference has filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) citing federal civil rights violations by the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) resulting in Catholic institutions and others being required to purchase health insurance covering all forms of voluntary direct abortion, including late-term and gender selection.

The complaint was filed Sept. 30 because of an administrative directive issued on August 22 by DMHC to the heads of eight different health insurance plans (Aetna, Anthem/Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, GEM Care, Health Net, Kaiser Permanente and United Health Care) ordering them to amend their current health plans and remove any coverage or exclusions regarding voluntary abortions on the basis that abortion for any reason was “basic health care” and could not be excluded.

“This is a coercive and discriminatory action by the State of California,” said Auxiliary Bishop Robert McElroy of San Francisco, chair of the CCC’s Institutional Concerns Committee. “This demand by the State was directly targeted at Catholic institutions like Santa Clara University, Loyola Marymount University, along with other California employers and citizens. It is a flagrant violation of their civil rights and deepest moral convictions, and is government coercion of the worst kind.”

“Catholic beliefs about life and human dignity animate and shape our Catholic ministries,” said McElroy. “It’s why we oppose abortion, but it is also why Catholic schools provide education, Catholic hospitals care for the poor and vulnerable and why Catholic social services provide assistance to people and families in need. It goes to the core of our moral beliefs.”

The HHS Office of Civil Rights has jurisdiction in this matter because of a federal law known as the “Weldon Amendment” that was enacted to protect the conscience rights of individuals and institutions. In this case, the Office of Civil Rights can cut off California’s access to federal funds unless or until it stops its discriminatory practices.

In the complaint (filed by the law firm Sweeney, Greene & Roberts), the CCC asserted that for the first time in California, or anywhere in the United States, health plans are now required, “as a matter of regulatory fiat, to cover all legal abortions, even late term abortions, for any reason.”

“This action effectively precludes California citizens and employers, who conscientiously believe that abortion destroys an unborn human life, from exercising their freedom to choose a health plan that excludes coverage for abortions in which the life or the health of the mother is not actually at risk.”

The complaint noted that in 2008 and 2012, the DMCH approved health plans for California institutional employers that excluded coverage for voluntary abortions where the life or health of the mother was not at risk. That changed this year, the complaint stated, “in response to powerful political interests that disagree with this policy,” and was taken specifically with Santa Clara and LMU in mind.

“There is no question,” the complaint stated, “that it is coercive and in flagrant disregard of the civil rights of both institutions and other citizens that conscientiously object to covering and paying for voluntary abortions. Such government action is patently discriminatory and intolerant.”

The state, the complaint said, is obligated to respect and protect the deepest moral convictions of all citizens, and “is required to remain neutral toward divergent viewpoints” on voluntary abortion.

“To force people and institutions to violate their most intimate and fundamental convictions — such as a commitment to defend life, and to refrain from paying for health insurance plans that cover the voluntary killing of unborn children — is discriminatory behavior that cannot stand under federal law,” the complaint said.

To view the entire text of the CCC’s complaint, visit http://www.cacatholic.org/images/Bishops/CCC_Complaint_Letter.pdf.