House passes bill to circumvent Calif. order that insurers cover abortion

The US House of Representatives passed a bill that would counter a California order requiring health insurance companies to pay for elective abortions.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/File
An activist holds a rosary while protesting abortion outside City Hall in Los Angeles, Calif. in 2015. The US House of Representatives passed a bill that would go against the Obama administration's upholding of a California order requiring insurance providers to cover abortions.

The US House of Representatives has supported legislation that would counter a California order requiring heath insurance companies to pay for elective abortions unless the company itself has moral objections, with GOP Congress members arguing that the rule violates a "right of conscience." 

The Conscience Protection Act is unlikely to become law under the Obama administration, which upheld the California requirement last month, after complaints from anti-abortion advocates in the state. The Department of Health and Human Services dismissed complaints that the order for insurance companies to cover elective abortions violated the Weldon Amendment, which is meant to protect health care providers opposed to abortion.

The bill passed 245-182 on Wednesday, most along party lines, as the Associated Press reports. 

The insurance companies in question did not object to covering abortion, but provided insurance to some employers who do, such as Catholic universities. Under the California requirement, companies' plans must cover elective abortion, unless the insurer itself has objections, regardless of whether particular companies who purchase insurance from the insurer have objections. 

When the California Department of Managed Health Care notified seven insurance providers in 2014 they were in violation of the order, the universities and the insurance companies decided to comply, but several anti-abortion groups brought the order to court, claiming it violated the Weldon Amendment. The amendment blocks federal funding from states that do not allow "health care entities" to abstain from performing abortions, or assisting in performing them. 

"We wouldn't force non-smokers to buy cigarettes for themselves or others. We wouldn't force vegetarians to buy meat. And we shouldn't force those who oppose abortion to pay for abortions," House majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R) of California told the Associated Press.

Former Rep. David Weldon (R) of Florida, whom the amendment is named after, wrote an essay in Politico this week arguing that "the administration's interpretation of the Weldon Amendment is clearly in defiance of the intent and the language of the law." The phrase "health care entities" was purposefully used to extend the amendment beyond doctors, Mr. Weldon writes. 

The Obama administration, however, ruled in June that as the health insurance providers had been providing abortion to their other customers, and did not have objections of their own, they did not fall under the "right of conscience" statue.

Democrats who opposed the House bill said that providers' rights to object were already covered. They also said that the bill allow physicians who object to abortion to withhold medical information if they thought that information could lead the patient to seek an abortion. 

"Women have the same rights to access to health care as men do, and no boss should be able to deny them that right," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D) of Massachusetts. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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