The Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services is taking the side of pro-life advocates who say they have been compelled to effectively support abortion.
In a statement on the HHS website, the OCR announced that it will “disallow $200 million in federal Medicaid funds going to California in the upcoming quarter due to the state illegally mandating that all health care plans subject to regulation by the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) cover abortion without exclusion or limitation.”
The HHS ruling gives California the option of dropping coercive language or losing more money.
“If the State does not come into compliance, additional disallowances will be imposed at a rate of $200 million per quarter,” read the statement, which, in summing up, said the action was “due to [California’s] unlawful abortion insurance mandate.”
In a separate case, HHS announced that the University of Vermont Medical Center will be sued by the Department of Justice, saying that the medical center “unlawfully forced a nurse to assist in an elective abortion procedure over the nurse’s conscience-based objections and has refused to change its policies to prevent future coercion.”
“Under President Trump, HHS has worked like never before to enforce laws Congress has passed to protect Americans’ religious freedom and conscience rights,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said.
“California and the University of Vermont Medical Center have violated federal conscience laws and refused to work with us to take corrective action, so we are now taking action to hold them to account.”
“Entities that receive HHS funds should think twice before flouting federal law and refusing to come into compliance,” OCR Director Roger Severino added. “As a result of our actions today, California will be losing $200 million in federal funds per quarter, and UVMMC will have to answer for its conduct in court.”
“Whatever one thinks of the legality of abortion, no one should be punished for declining to pay for or assist in the taking of human life,” he said.
The California case is based upon complaints that date back to 2017 from the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, Inc. in Los Angeles, a Catholic order of religious women, and the Skyline Wesleyan Church of LaMesa, California. Both said they were forced by the state to pay for elective abortion insurance despite religious objections to abortion.
“As a result of California’s mandate, health plan issuers were compelled to remove coverage exclusions and limitations regarding abortion coverage, which forced employer groups associated with over 28,000 individuals out of plans that until that time had chosen to not cover elective abortions,” HHS said in its statement.
“California’s mandate violates a federal antidiscrimination law known as the Weldon Amendment, which protects entities from being forced to provide, pay for, or provide coverage for abortions.
“California has refused to come into compliance with the Weldon Amendment, despite several demands from OCR as well as offers from OCR to assist it in coming into compliance.”
Negotiations to bring the state into compliance failed, according to HHS, leading to the decision to disallow up to $800 million in Medicaid costs per year until the state comes into compliance.
The Vermont case centers around a 2018 complaint from a nurse who alleges that she was forced to assist in an abortion in spite of her moral objections to the practice.
After its investigation, the OCR ruled in 2019 that the center “has forced and attempted to force health care personnel (including nurses) into assisting with abortions over their conscience-based objections;” “intentionally, unnecessarily, and knowingly schedules nurses or other health-care personnel who have religious or moral objections to abortion to assist with abortions;” “subjects health-care personnel (including nurses) who have religious or moral objections to abortion to different terms or conditions of employment than health-care personnel who do not share the same religious or moral objections;” and “discriminates against health care personnel (including nurses) because of their religious beliefs or moral convictions in opposition to abortion.”
In its statement, HHS said it “referred the matter to DOJ, which filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont on behalf of HHS, seeking a court order requiring UVMMC to comply with the Church Amendments and uphold its contractual obligations.”
The medical center denies the claim, according to WCAX-TV.
“I want to be very clear we are very sensitive to our employees’ religious and moral beliefs, and we believe are very confident that we have a policy that protects our employees’ rights while being certain to offer all legal and safe procedures for patients that seek our care,” said Dr. Stephen Leffler, president and CEO of the medical center.
Vermont’s Democratic attorney general ridiculed the HHS’ action.
“The idea that you’re going to file this type of lawsuit 35 days to go before there is a change in the administration where you will have a new attorney general, frankly, is baffling,” T.J. Donovan said.
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