The Archbishop of Seattle warned state legislators that a proposed bill requiring abortion coverage in health care plans will result in a fight to protect the Catholic Church from being forced to pay for the procedure.

"The Catholic Church in Washington State and its affiliated organizations do not now, nor will we in the future, offer coverage for abortion in our health care plans," Archbishop Peter Sartain told the Washington Senate Committee on Health Care April 1.

He warned that the legislation would result in court appeals that would be "protracted and costly to all parties."

"It will not come as a surprise that we oppose the very intent of this legislation," the archbishop said. "Deeply rooted in our Catholic faith is the belief that life is sacred from the moment of conception until natural death. We cannot equivocate about that belief."

The legislation would mandate insurance coverage for elective abortion in all private health insurance plans which provide coverage of maternity care. It passed in the Democrat-controlled State House of Representatives in February by a 53-43 vote.

One backer of the bill claims to have 25 of 49 senators willing to vote for the bill if it reaches the Senate floor, the New York Times reports. The Senate is controlled by a coalition of two Democrats and the Republican caucus.

Archbishop Sartain warned that the bill E.H.B 1044 "discriminates unjustly against churches, religious organizations and people who for religious reasons oppose abortion."

The bill has some conscience protections, but the archbishop said they "in reality offer no protection at all."

One provision guarantees conscientious objection, while another provision says the conscience protection will not result in a health plan enrollee's denial of coverage or timely access to any services as a result of the conscience clause.

"The Catholic Church and any other organization and individual employers are granted the right to exercise their consciences and  not provide abortion coverage, but at the same time their employees cannot be denied coverage and access to abortion services," the archbishop said. "As a result, the
right to exercise conscience and the requirements of this law are irreconcilable."

He was skeptical of the bill's requirement that the insurance commissioner create a mechanism for these situations. He said a similar requirement for previous laws has not been acted upon.

The Washington Catholic Conference has warned that the bill would endanger federal funding to Washington state, since federal law bars funds to agency or programs that require payment or provision of abortion.

The conference is asking opponents of the bill to contact their state senators and ask them to vote against it.