JURIST Digital Scholars
California refuses to back down in face of Trump Administration threat to withhold funds over abortion
© WikiMedia (James McNellis)
California refuses to back down in face of Trump Administration threat to withhold funds over abortion

On Friday the Attorney General for the State of California sent a strongly-worded response to a notice of violation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) had sent the notice to California on January 24, stating that they found California to be in violation of the Weldon Amendment. OCR had carried out an investigation after two religious organizations, the Catholic Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit and the Protestant Skyline Wesleyan Church, had filed complaints against California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC). In August 2014 the DMHC issued instructions that all health insurers under its jurisdiction must offer elective abortion coverage in every health plan. The two complainants allege discrimination because their religious beliefs forbid aiding in elective abortions, including by paying into insurance coverage that provides for abortions. The Weldon Amendment is a federal law that allows for the withholding of federal funds from state or local governments that discriminate against health care entities that “do[] not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”

In response state Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote a letter to Roger Severino, director of the OCR, refuting any and all violations. Becerra reminded Severino that OCR had already determined that California was not in violation of the Weldon Amendment in an investigation in 2016. The OCR investigated complaints “based on the same relevant facts, and . . . brought by some of the same entities,” and found in California’s favor. Becerra noted that in all the years since the DMHC issued its abortion-coverage directive, only one provider requested an exemption to the requirement, and that exemption was granted. He accused the Department of unconstitutionally attempting to expand the meaning and scope of the Weldon Amendment. He also claimed the threatened loss of federal funding was an attempt to pressure California to change its policies regarding abortion, “a threat that the Constitution forbids,” he concluded.

The Attorney General ended his letter by saying that California will take “no corrective action” in response to the Notice of Violation, and that California be provided all relevant evidence pertaining to the Notice so that the state might have a “full and fair opportunity” to refute the findings.