The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump Administration Challenges California over Abortion-Funding Requirement

A woman receives an ultrasound during a prenatal exam. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

Late last month, just before Donald Trump became the first president ever to speak at the rally before the annual March for Life, his administration announced that it would take action against California over its requirement that insurers in the state cover abortion procedures.

The Office of Civil Rights, which is a division within the Department of Health and Human Services, announced that California’s requirement violates the Weldon amendment, a conscience protection for health-care providers that refuse to cover or perform particular procedures due to religious or moral objections.

“The Weldon amendment is very clear,” OCR director Roger Severino said in a call for reporters prior to the announcement. “If states receive federal funds from HHS and other agencies, they cannot discriminate against health plans that decline to cover or pay for abortions.”

The department issued a notice to California shortly thereafter, requiring the state to “signal its intent to come into compliance with the law or face appropriate action.” The administration has not detailed the specifics of what punitive action it might take if the state refuses to comply, although Severino suggested that California could lose the funding it receives from HHS.

“Despite a federal opinion four years ago confirming California’s compliance with the Weldon amendment, the Trump administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what’s right,” California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, said in a statement following the announcement.

Newsom was referencing the fact that the Barack Obama’s administration declined to enforce the Weldon amendment against California after the state enacted its mandate for abortion coverage in 2014.

“The President & VP are once again attacking women’s health in order to grandstand at today’s anti-choice rally,” California attorney general Xavier Becerra tweeted in response to the announcement from HHS. “Make no mistake, this action against CA is just one more attempt to chip away at women’s rights & access to abortion.”

This latest news was in keeping with the Trump administration’s trend of protecting the conscience rights of Americans who are opposed to abortion. Last year, HHS issued the “Protect Life” rule, which strengthened regulatory protections for health-care workers who are morally opposed to abortion or elective sterilization. Given these policy decisions, it makes sense that pro-life Americans welcomed Trump so warmly at the March for Life.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated since its initial publication.

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