California issued a new directive last week that forces insurers, including those of faith-based institutions, to cover elective abortions—a move the ACLU of Northern California is cheering as a restoration of women’s “basic health care” rights.
California’s Dept of Managed Health Care told seven insurance companies last week that they must now comply with the 1975 Knox Keene Act which guarantees coverage of “basic health care services,” which they specify as including elective abortion. As The Daily Signal explains, the directive is in part a response to a controversial decision by two Catholic universities which refused to cover elective abortions:
Last fall, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University notified their employees that abortion services would no longer be covered under the universities’ health care plans. Employees instead could pay for such procedures through supplemental coverage, provided by a third party.
But opponents of the universities’ decision claimed that because both institutions receive public funds and employ people of different faiths the state should clarify and enforce coverage of basic health care services.
Last week, California’s DMHC director Michelle Rouillard sent a letter to insurers explaining that they had “erroneously approved” the universities’ language excluding abortion services, explaining that all insurers had to provide for legal abortions:
“Every pregnant woman has the fundamental right to choose to either bear a child or to have a legal abortion. All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.”
Predictably, the ACLU cheered the state’s decision to force insurers to cover elective abortions as “basic health care services”:
“The immediate effect of the agency’s guidance is to restore insurance benefits for the staff and faculty,” said ACLU-Northern California attorney Maggie Crosby. “Childbearing is a personal decision, abortion is a basic health care, and control of reproduction is critical to women’s autonomy.”
Heritage Foundation’s Sarah Torre had a far different take, however, arguing that the DMHC was violating Californian institutions' freedom to choose coverage that "align with their values":
“This new policy will effectively force almost all health insurance plans in the state to cover elective abortions. All employers – particularly faith-based organizations like Catholic universities – should be free to choose health care plans that align with their values.”