Catholic Leaders Say California Abortion Insurance Policy Is a Civil Rights Violation

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Catholic Leaders Say California Abortion Insurance Policy Is a Civil Rights Violation

Nina Liss-Schultz

On Tuesday, the California Catholic Conference filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services over its state’s abortion insurance policy.

On Tuesday, the California Catholic Conference filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services over its state’s abortion insurance policy.

The complaint, written last month in response to a state order, alleges that state health-care rules discriminate against people who are morally opposed to abortion.

The California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), an agency tasked with approving all insurance plans in the state, in August told insurance companies that they can’t exclude abortion coverage from their plans.

Both Kaiser Permanente and Anthem Blue Cross had sold insurance plans that restricted abortion coverage. The plans, which were adopted by both Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, had previously been approved by the DMHC. Santa Clara’s policy change was not set to take effect until 2015. Loyola’s had gone into effect.

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The universities, both Catholic affiliated, each have more than 1,000 full-time employees who would be affected by the health plan change.

After an investigation by California Lawyer magazine uncovered the restrictive plans, abortion access advocates put pressure on the state to reverse its decision.

“From the people who clean the university floors to the professors who educate our next generation of leaders, we urge you take the steps necessary to ensure that all employees continue to have access and choice to full reproductive healthcare,” wrote the Legislative Women’s Caucus in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Soon after, the DMHC wrote letters to Anthem, Kaiser, and other insurance companies, calling abortion a “basic health care service” and ordering the companies to include coverage of all abortions in their health plans.

Though federal law allows for the exclusion of abortion coverage from insurance plans, California law guarantees access to abortion and the state has protected the right to comprehensive reproductive care from attempts to limit it.

The DMHC affirmed this precedent in its August letter, writing that the plans sold to Loyola and Santa Clara Universities were not in accordance with the law.

“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,” wrote the DMHC.

The California Catholic Conference, “the official public policy voice” of the church in California, fired back in its complaint, and demanded the federal health department reverse the DMHC’s decision.

“There is no question that …. [s]uch government action is patently discriminatory and intolerant,” wrote the conference. “[The order] deliberately and purposefully tramples upon the civil rights of California citizens who disagree with the position and interest groups that support abortion on demand.”