Sacramento, Calif., Apr 5, 2019 / 14:01 pm
A 2014 California rule forcing religious groups, including churches, to cover elective abortions for employees was the result of direct pressure from Planned Parenthood, internal emails have shown.
On April 4, three churches filed a notice of appeal against the measure, which they contend violates basic religious freedom and conscience protections. In support of the appeal, attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the churches, submitted internal emails between Planned Parenthood employees and state Department of Health and Human Services.
"The government shouldn't be forcing churches to pay for abortion, and it is shameful and inappropriate that the government did so in this case at the bidding of Planned Parenthood," said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremiah Galus in a statement.
The emails show lobbyists from Planned Parenthood insisting that agency rules be changed to force religious groups – specifically naming Catholic universities – to provide coverage for elective abortions.
Galus said, "California officials are required to follow the law and legal precedent, not the dictates of groups that have an axe to grind against religious organizations that don't share their views on abortion. We are asking the 9th Circuit to strike down this obviously unconstitutional mandate."
Under the rules in force in March 2014, Loyola Marymount University employees were obliged to take out third-party coverage for abortion and Santa Clara University intended to bring in a similar arrangement, an email from Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California's chief legal counsel said.
The email was addressed to staff at California HHS and asked for "another meeting" to discuss the matter.
A subsequent email between a Planned Parenthood legislative advocate and an HHS staff member recorded a March 13, 2014 meeting with Donna Campbell, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Legislative Affairs at HHS.
The emails notes the meeting was to "explore whether there is a regulatory/administrative fix" to prevent religious groups opting out of covering elective abortions, "or if legislation is needed." If the rules could not be tightened, the email says, Planned Parenthood had drafted legislation which it would arrange sponsorship for.
In a March 17, 2014, email to Campbell, the Planned Parenthood legislative advocate said that "while we would prefer to see [the exceptions for employers not to fund elective abortions] resolved without legislation," the abortion provider was "concerned" that HHS would not make the necessary changes.
The email then offers a trade: Planned Parenthood would not have new legislation introduced provided the state administration offered certain guarantees, including an undertaking to rescind already-approved healthcare plans which did not meet with Planned Parenthood approval.
"Simply saying that [employer] healthcare plans only need to cover 'medically necessary' abortions has been the source of the issue and [this] does not solve the problem," the email warns.
In late April, Planned Parenthood emailed Campbell to "check in on HHS and [the California Department for Managed Health Care] progress, including where you are in the timeline to find a solution in 4-6 weeks?"
In an email dated the next day, Campbell responded to thank them for "checking in" on her progress.
"We are still working with DMHC on the legal and practical issues related to the 'updated' interpretation, if you will." Campbell then promised a "more thorough progress report for [Planned Parenthood] in mid-May."
In August, 2014, California's Department of Managed Health Care ruled that all healthcare plans must cover elective abortions.
Alliance Defending Freedom, the Life Legal Defense Foundation and the Catholic Bishops of California filed several federal legal complaints against the rule, citing the 2005 Weldon Amendment which denies federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against institutional or individual healthcare entities that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.
The amendment defines healthcare entities as individual physicians or health care professionals, a hospital, "a health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization or plan."
In June, 2016, the Obama Administration rejected the complaints. The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it "found no violation of the Weldon Amendment and is closing this matter without further action."