Small Steps in Congress

Congress’s latest masterpiece of fiscal irresponsibility, the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act” or “CROmnibus,” while failing to add some sought-for pro-life riders, does take at least one small step in the right direction.

Pro-life individuals and organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to avoid participating in the provision of abortion. As previously reported, in August the California Department of Managed Health Care Issued a mandate requiring insurance issuers to immediately insert abortion coverage into their plans, even if plan sponsors (e.g. employers providing health insurance, including churches) had previously stipulated that the plan would exclude abortion. This is a violation of the decade-old Weldon Amendment included in the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill every year. The only recourse for victims seeking protection under the Weldon amendment is to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. Life Legal Defense Foundation has participated in filing complaints on behalf of victims of the California abortion mandate with the Office for Civil Rights. But despite these complaints being filed in September and October, the process is dragging on, with the OCR only this week notifying Life Legal that it has jurisdiction over the complaints and has “initiated” an investigation.

The CROmnibus legislation presented an opportunity to pass the Abortion NonDiscrimination Act (ANDA), which would make the Weldon Amendment permanent and offer direct judicial recourse for individuals and entities being coerced to provide, participate in, or pay for abortion. Pro-life leaders in Congress have pressed for enactment of ANDA for some time. Despite their best efforts, it was not included in the CROmnibus. However, the Explanatory Statement accompanying the legislation contains language noting the complaints that have been made and directing the Secretary to take action. This is a step toward obtaining relief for the objectors to the California mandate and warning other states considering similar action that Congress takes the Weldon Amendment seriously.

The Explanatory Statement states: “Legislation appropriating funding for the Department of Health and Human Services has carried a general provision relating to health care providers since fiscal year 2005 (Division H, Section 507(d) of Public Law 113-76). Complaints regarding reported violations of these provisions have been filed with the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. The Secretary is directed to respond to these complaints expeditiously in accordance with final rule 45 CFR Part 88 published in Federal Register Vol. 76 No. 36.”

“The ‘explanatory’ language is a step in the right direction,” comments Dana Cody, Life Legal Defense Foundation’s President and Executive Director. “But pro-life advocates continue to wait for legislation that would take real steps toward protecting the unborn and rights of conscience for pro-life individuals and organizations.”

Letter from Department of Health & Human Services – 15-195665

Letter from Department of Health & Human Services – 14-193604