WASHINGTON (AP) — The House backed legislation designed to circumvent a California order that requires health insurance companies to pay for elective abortions.
The legislation passed 245-182 on a mostly party-line vote on Wednesday. Republicans say the California order upheld by the Obama administration last month would discriminate against companies and employees that oppose abortion on ethical and moral grounds.
The bill, named the "Conscience Protection Act," has little chance of becoming law under President Barack Obama. But it represents an issue that resonates strongly with the Republican Party's base in a contentious election year.
"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," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the California order and laws like it push people of faith "on the sidelines of society."
The legislation states that the federal government and state and local governments cannot penalize or discriminate against health care providers who won't perform abortions or sponsor or provide abortion coverage. Those who felt discriminated against could file a government complaint or a lawsuit.
Democrats strongly opposed the bill, arguing that current law already allows practitioners to refuse to perform an abortion because of moral objections. They say the bill could even go further and allow providers to withhold medical information about a patient's condition if that information could lead to an abortion.
"Women have the same rights to access to health care as men do, and no boss should be able to deny them that right," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
The Obama administration said in June that California did not violate a religious freedom law when it ordered the health insurance companies to pay for elective abortions.
The decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services upheld the 2014 order requiring seven insurance companies to rescind and re-issue policies covering workers at organizations whose leadership objects to abortion on moral grounds, such as Catholic universities.