California goes all in for reproductive rights: “Abortion is a basic health care service”

California issued a letter requiring insurers to cover abortion, no exceptions. Will others take notice?

Topics: Abortion, California, abortion rights, Insurance, aca, Affordable Care Act,

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, the Wheaton College injunction and a stream of recent political blows to access to reproductive healthcare, California is breaking with the national trend and defending reproductive rights in unprecedented ways. Last week, officials from the state’s Department of Managed Health Care sent a letter to seven insurance companies informing them that they must cover abortion in all plans, calling the procedure “a basic health care service.”

The letter was a reversal on a previous decision allowing Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente to limit abortion coverage in plans offered to two Catholic universities. According to the Associated Press, the letter said that “the California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy. Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.”

One of the great successes of the anti-choice movement has been to isolate abortion — both in terms of where the procedure is performed and how we talk about it — from other healthcare. Facing tremendous political pressure, many hospitals do not perform abortions, leaving providers working out of free-standing clinics that are easily targeted by state legislatures hostile to abortion rights. The physical separation of abortion from other medical care is mirrored in how we talk about the procedure. Rather than being discussed as essential healthcare, we are told (even by pro-choice lawmakers) that it should be “safe, legal and rare.”

California, however, is reclaiming the terms of the debate, and rejecting the idea that abortion can be singled out for punitive restrictions that do not apply to other medical services. In her letter to the insurance companies, DMHC director Michelle Roullaird said her department was wrong to approve of health insurance policies excluding abortion coverage, and asked each insurer to review their plans to make sure they provide the full range of coverage required under the law.

Anti-choice groups have threatened to sue, according to the Associated Press:

Two groups that oppose abortion, the Life Legal Defense Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom, sent a letter to Rouillard on Friday saying that under federal law California cannot force employers to cover elective abortions. The groups said they would file a civil rights complaint with the federal government unless the state’s previous determination was reinstated.

“Pro-life employers have the freedom to choose health insurance plans that do not conflict with their beliefs on the dignity of human life,” Life Legal Defense Foundation Legal Director Catherine Short said. “California cannot be allowed to discriminate against health plans that don’t cover elective abortions and force people to purchase coverage that conflicts with their convictions.”

But it appears that California is ready for the fight.

h/t RH Reality Check

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...