Today we are voting on the Conscience Protection Act. It’s an important bill for all Americans who want to live their lives the way they think is right without fear of losing their jobs or violating the law. But it’s particularly important for my home state of California.
The California Abortion Mandate
In 2014, the California Department of Managed Health Care issued a mandate that health insurance plans include coverage for abortions. The problem is, many insurance providers and employers—like churches, religious schools, and institutions run by pro-life people—not only don’t want to pay for abortion in health insurance plans, but doing so goes against what they think is right.
You don’t have to agree with these pro-life Californians to empathize. 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.
Our Attempts to Stop This
Long before the Conscience Protection Act was brought to the floor, I worked with other Members of Congress to protect the people of my state from the abortion mandate.
Several organizations in my state took action soon after the abortion mandate was finalized and filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). A long standing federal law—the Weldon Amendment—should protect them from the abortion mandate by blocking federal funds from state or local governments that discriminate against a health care entity, including a health insurance plan, that does not cover or pay for abortion. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell promised to investigate the issue “expeditiously,” but 18 months later, nothing was done.
So I sent a letter with some of my colleagues to HHS requesting an account of what was going on and to schedule a meeting to discuss this. Finally, the day before the meeting with Secretary Burwell, some of my colleagues, and I, the verdict was in. The California abortion mandate would stand despite the explicit text of the Weldon Amendment that bans such discrimination. My colleagues and I immediately demanded a full account of HHS’s investigation to understand exactly how this could happen and await HHS’s response.
The Conscience Protection Act Works for Everyone
Nobody in America should face the choice the citizens of my state now face. Many Californians against abortion are being forced to choose between following the law or following their conscience. HHS’s refusal to enforce the plain text of federal law has forced the House to explore every legislative option to protect the rights of health care providers in California and beyond. That is why we are voting today on the Conscience Protection Act so nobody is coerced into supporting abortion.