"We're not seeking to cut off federal funds," he said. "All we're seeking is a respectful conversation, but one that is now clearly backed by the government which recognizes that this is a violation of conscience rights."
"We're interested in simply rolling back to the status quo that existed prior to 2014," Eckert said.
In August 2014 California's Department of Managed Health sent a letter to seven insurance companies stating that they are required to include elective abortions in their health plans. A 1975 state health care law, the California constitution, and court precedent, it said, prohibits health plans "from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy." The law requires all health plans to "treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally," the state regulator said.
California officials mandated the coverage after two Catholic universities in autumn 2013 announced that they planned to stop paying for employees' elective abortions and had secured state approval for the new health plans.
Lobbyists from Planned Parenthood wrote to the California Department of Health and Human Services to insist that agency rules be changed to force religious groups to provide coverage for elective abortions, according to emails published in court filings from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group.
In June 2016, the Obama Administration rejected the California Catholic Conference's federal complaint against the mandate. The HHS Office for Civil Rights said it "found no violation of the Weldon Amendment and is closing this matter without further action."
At that time, leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the ruling was "contrary to the plain meaning of the law." They said it was "shocking" that the federal government allowed California to force all employers, including churches, to fund and facilitate elective abortions.
The federal action against California was announced Jan. 24.
Some California officials, like Gov. Gavin Newsom, were defiant in response.
"Despite a federal opinion four years ago confirming California's compliance with the Weldon Amendment, the Trump Administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what's right… California will continue to protect a woman's right to choose, and we won't back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody - full stop."
Eckery, however, rejected partisan political interpretation of objections to the state rule.
(Story continues below)
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"People who want to impose partisan political logic on issues of morality are off-base," Eckery told CNA. "For us, this is not an issue of partisanship. We refuse to engage in partisanship on these matters. Why would one trade the moral teachings of the Church for just becoming another political party?"
"It's unfortunate we live in a time of polarization. If we had a lot more respect and spent a lot more time listening than shouting, we'd all be better off."
In a Jan. 31 statement, the California Catholic Conference said that the Weldon Amendment provision to withhold all federal funding from a state seems "impractical" to most observers and is a reason why the amendment has not been enforced previously.
"Catholic organizations and have been advocating for years for more effective consequences and for a private right of action in such cases," the conference said.