The Alliance for Conscience Rights is a national coalition of faith-based organizations that support strengthening federal conscience rights laws by giving health care providers, religious employers and others the legal right to defend themselves in a court of law from governmental mandates to provide, pay for or cover abortion.
Faith-based health care institutions, like our members, are increasingly experiencing actual or threatened governmental discrimination based on their choice not to cover or provide abortion. For example, the California Department of Managed Health Care in 2014 compelled health plans in that state to cover all abortions – even late-term and gender selection abortions. This discrimination is in direct violation of federal law enacted via the Weldon Amendment intended to protect health care providers and others from violating their deepest moral convictions in the course of performing their jobs. Due especially to action taken by the California Department of Managed Health Care, but also to continuing threats across the nation, it has become clear that stronger federal protections are necessary to ensure the conscience protections intended under current federal law. To read more, visit our Background section.
Together with our supporters, the Alliance is using education and outreach to Members of Congress to pursue a solution to governmental discrimination against faith-based health care institutions this year.
The Weldon Amendment provides that no federal funding from the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education may be made available to a Federal agency, state or local government, if they subject any health care provider or insurer to discrimination on the basis that they choose not to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions. First enacted in 2005 in the appropriations process, the Weldon Amendment has been readopted by every subsequent Congress, and has been included in both the House of Representatives and Senate versions of the fiscal year 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Services appropriations bills. To read the Weldon Amendment in full, click here.
In August 2014, the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) ordered most of the state’s health insurers to start covering all abortions – even late-term and gender selection abortions – as a “basic health service”. This, in effect, made abortion-on-demand a standard of care, in violation of the federal Weldon Amendment. Since the DMHC mandate, large numbers of California employers, including religious employers, have been required to cover and pay for abortion-on-demand in their health plans, regardless of their moral beliefs. These employers include many faith-based universities, grade and high schools, hospitals and social services agencies.
Victims of discrimination under the Weldon Amendment have one method of recourse only: to file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR), an avenue that was pursued aggressively by California’s faith-based health care institutions and their supporters. Despite numerous inquiries by members of Congress, report language in two separate omnibus bills, and several letters to the Department of Health and Human Services, the OCR did not issue a ruling until June 21, 2016, nearly two years after California’s action. The OCR ruled against the complainants in the California case, claiming that they were not “health care entities” in the manner intended by the Weldon Amendment and its legislative history, and, therefore, could not experience discrimination under the law.
California hasn’t stopped there. This year, Governor Brown signed into law a mandate (Assembly Bill 775 (Chiu)) that requires licensed health care facilities, such as nonprofit crisis pregnancy centers that provide high quality, compassionate alternatives to abortion, to provide a notice that refers their patients to abortion providers. The statute provides no exception for facilities that are opposed to abortion. Failure to comply with AB 775 carries a $500 fine for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. In a word, AB 775 empowers the State of California to use its police powers to coerce private nonprofit organizations that believe in the sanctity of unborn human life to violate their consciences by doing something they believe is fundamentally wrong.
Yes, and given California’s size and influence, we believe other states will continue to replicate this policy. In fact, policymakers in Oregon and Washington have threatened similar actions, and, in 2011, the governor of Kentucky “vetoed” a proposed partnership between the University of Louisville Hospital and three subsidiaries of a faith-based health care system. Further, New York’s Department of Financial Services has issued regulations similar to California’s mandate. To read more about these other threats, visit our Background page.
Numerous faith-based groups in California filed complaints with the Office for Civil Rights immediately after the DMHC ruling, but were unable to obtain information on the timing or status of the agency’s investigation for nearly two years. Several Members of Congress attempted to intervene on behalf of parties experiencing discrimination, even including language in multiple omnibus appropriations bills to compel OCR to act on the complaints “expeditiously.” The OCR did not issue a ruling until June 21, 2016, nearly two years after California’s action. The OCR ruled against the complainants in the California case, claiming that they were not “health care entities” in the manner intended by the Weldon Amendment and its legislative history, and, therefore, could not experience discrimination under the law. Moreover, the OCR indicated in its ruling that the Weldon Amendment is coercive to states and, therefore, likely unconstitutional.
The solution is to strengthen the Weldon Amendment by adding a “private right of action,” or the ability for parties experiencing discrimination to bring their case to a federal court for judgment.
This solution is ideal because the Weldon Amendment, as written, ought to be sufficient to protect faith-based health care entities’ conscience rights. However, the ineffective enforcement mechanism through the HHS Office for Civil Rights has empowered California and other states to flout federal law without fear of repercussion. By strengthening the enforcement mechanism through the inclusion of a private right of action, faith-based health care entities would be able to defend their conscience rights against Federal agencies, states, and local governments in an appropriate venue—a federal Court.
No. The changes in federal law sought by the Alliance would merely ensure that faith-based health care entities maintain the protections they have enjoyed for the past decade so that they can continue to provide excellent care without violating their deepest moral beliefs. This would not place any restrictions on women’s access to any medical services, nor provide any additional accommodations other than those that have had bipartisan support from Congress and under presidents of both parties.
Your help is crucial to us, and there are a few ways you can assist the Alliance.
The most important thing you can do is to share your views with your U.S. Representative and Senators and tell them why you stand with the Alliance. You can do that easily through our website, and we will ensure that your thoughts make it to your members of Congress.
You can also help by signing up for our updates and spreading the word to others who support upholding the rule of law and respect the need for conscience protections.
If you have a question we haven’t answered, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to respond to you.