Booklet available from PPL about PC(USA) medical benefits plan coverage of abortion
The PC(USA) medical benefits plan, which is mandatory for all installed pastors, lists thirty limitations and exclusions from coverage. Abortion is not among them. Abortion for any reason, at any time during pregnancy, is a covered service of the denomination's plan. The coverage includes partial birth abortion; it includes abortion by means of chemicals, such as RU-486; it includes abortions for minor dependent daughters with no requirement for parental notification; it includes no requirement for medical necessity. General Assembly Council Executive Director John Detterick, when he was President of the Board of Pensions--the PC(USA) entity that designs and administers the plan--said, "The simple fact is that the medical plan pays for elective abortions as ordinary medical payment."
The fact of abortion coverage affects not only the pastors, their families, and other denominational staff who use it, but also those who pay the dues for the plan. The tithes and offerings of contributing church members are used to pay the dues.
Churches have sought relief from paying for abortion coverage since the mid-1980s
It is not difficult to see why the plan's abortion coverage creates a moral crisis for church members. The coverage has been an issue since the medical benefits plan was made mandatory in the mid-1980s. Since that time churches have sent up overtures seeking redress nearly every year.
Beginning in 1992 the General Assembly urged the Board of Pensions to find a means of providing relief from payment for abortion for churches that believe taking innocent human life is sinful. In 1998, the Board of Pensions finally approved a "relief of conscience" provision that allows a portion of dues from a church to be used for adoption instead of abortion. The action by the Board followed two prior attempts at "relief" that were rejected because the provisions offered no real relief for those whose consciences were violated by the mandatory payment for the coverage.
Adoption alternative now an option
Under the current provision of the Board of Pensions, a church must seek validation by its presbytery that it is a "relief of conscience" church. After the presbytery notifies the Board of Pensions of the validation, the Board then puts a portion of the church's dues in an "adoption fund" which is used to provide small grants to adoptive couples who are plan members. The grants are intended to defray medical costs for newly adopted infants.
There has been limited information from the Board of Pensions regarding its abortion coverage and its attempts to provide "relief" for churches that object to the coverage. For that reason, PPL published a booklet in 1994 when the Board of Pensions made its first effort, called "Capture of Dues." After the second attempt in 1996, PPL issued a revised booklet describing the amended "Capture of Dues."
In spite of the limited information available from the Board of Pensions regarding abortion coverage and the Relief of Conscience provision, hundreds of churches have applied for relief. The 2008 General Assembly mandated that the Board of Pensions include the number of churches participating in Relief of Conscience in its Annual Report and that each of those churches receive an annual letter from the BOP confirming their Relief of Conscience status. In 2014 The General Assembly asked the Board of Pensions to post the list of Relief of Conscience churches online. The list can be found on the BOP website under the "About the Board of Pensions" tab by clicking on "Conscience and the Benefits Plan" and then the "Relief of Conscience" link on the left side of the page.
The 2008 edition of the PPL booklet explains the medical benefits plan, gives some of the history, and explains how churches can make use of the current "relief of conscience" provision that the Board offers.
Click here for more background and links to Denomination's Relief of Conscience information.