Terminating Religious Liberty in California

Terminating Religious Liberty in CaliforniaThe California state government has just ordered two Catholic colleges to cover abortions in their healthcare plans for employees, or face discrimination charges.

California had previously exempted both institutions from paying for abortions and other procedures considered violations of their religious convictions. But last month, the state Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) issued a letter explaining that “it erroneously approved or did not object to such discriminatory language in some evidence of coverage filings.”

“The purpose of this letter,” it continued, “is to remind plans that the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975 … requires the provision of basic healthcare services … [and that] 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.”

“Insurance coverage for abortion is not mandated by the federal healthcare law,” explained Bob Egelko at the San Francisco Chronicle. “But California guarantees abortion, both by statute and by privacy protections, in the state Constitution. Until the current controversy arose, insurers in California had treated all abortions sought by women in their health plans as medically necessary.”

The DMHC likewise considers all abortions, for any reason, “medically necessary,” adds Michael Gryboski at The Christian Post. “Thus [abortion is always] a procedure that should be covered by insurance companies.”

The Life Defense Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom immediately responded to this crackdown by California, issuing a letter of protest to the DMHC. The joint letter on behalf of the Cardinal Newman Society cites federal law prohibiting states from discriminating against healthcare plans that restrict abortion coverage.

The law they cite is the Weldon Amendment, a provision that authorizes the federal government to withhold federal funds from a state for doing precisely what California has attempted to do.

“DMHC cannot deny approval to or otherwise penalize a health insurance plan for failing to provide coverage of some or all abortions and remain in compliance with the Weldon Amendment,” the letter read.

LLDF and ADF went on to point out that California has already established the amendment’s jurisdiction over the state in court:

“In its failed lawsuit against the amendment, California admitted that all of its departments are subject to the amendment due to some of those departments receiving over $40 billion in federal funds for programs in the areas of education, health, and employment.”

Both groups vowed to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights in California insisting that the universities cover abortions.

The war over terms like “discrimination” and “neutrality” should catch Christians’ eyes. As John Stonestreet recently observed on BreakPoint, sexual liberty has in many cases replaced religious liberty as America’s “new first freedom.” As one New Mexico Supreme Court justice wrote last year, Christians compromising their religious convictions, even on such crucial issues as life and the meaning of marriage, is “the price of citizenship.”

And requiring Catholic institutions to pay for the destruction of unborn life — something they consider bankrolling murder — is the logical conclusion of a worldview in which the freedom to have sex without consequences trumps all.

In the eyes of these universities’ faculties and Christians across the nation, this is a clear Acts 5:29 moment. That passage records the reaction of the Apostle Peter and the other Disciples when ordered by the religious leaders of Jerusalem to stop preaching in Jesus’ name. Their response was firm: “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!” (Acts 4:19). Peter repeats himself in still stronger terms after the authorities threaten him: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Christians can take no part in the destruction of unborn life. If that means suffering legal consequences, we should be prepared. Disobedience to such laws is obedience to the highest Lawgiver. Until then, this case highlights why religious freedom isn’t a Madisonian relic, but a crucial component to freedom in general.

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