On the same day that President Donald Trump made history as the first president to appear in person at the March for Life, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took another action to protect the sanctity of human life and the conscience rights of all Americans.
HHS’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a “Notice of Violation,” formally telling the state of California that it cannot force all health insurance plans and issuers in the state to cover abortion. To do so is a violation of federal conscience laws, specifically the Weldon Amendment. The Weldon Amendment, which has passed in every federal HHS appropriations bill since 2005, prohibits federal funds from going to states that discriminate against any health care entity which does not pay for or provide coverage for abortions.
California has 30 days to inform OCR if they will continue to enforce their abortion coverage requirement. After 30 days, if OCR does not receive sufficient assurance that California will come into compliance with federal law, OCR will forward the “Notice of Violation” and the evidence supporting OCR’s findings in this matter to the HHS funding components from which California receives funding for appropriate action under applicable grants and contracts regulations. This action may ultimately result in limitations on continued receipt of certain HHS funds.
Since 2014, California has required health insurance plans to cover abortions. California sent a letter to seven insurance companies forcing all health plan issuers under its jurisdiction to offer coverage for elective abortion in every plan they offer. The state of California estimates that at least 28,000 individuals subsequently lost their abortion-free health plans as a result of this mandate. OCR’s investigation arose from complaints from two faith-based organizations, Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, a Catholic order of religious sisters, and Skyline Wesleyan Church.
After a thorough investigation into the matter, OCR offered California a way to come into compliance, but it refused. This is not the first time OCR has found California to be in violation of federal conscience statutes. In January 2019, OCR found that California violated the Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments when it subjected pregnancy resource centers in the state to potential fines and discrimination for refusing to post notices referring for free or low-cost abortions.
Liberty Counsel represented three pro-life crisis pregnancy centers in Southern California that are faith-based and offer women pregnancy resources, counseling, advice and alternatives to abortion. The California Reproductive FACT Act directly opposed their mission and forced them to endorse the government language promoting the abortion message on their front door, in their waiting room, online and in every advertisement for the crisis pregnancy center. The message had to be printed in 48-point font and in up to 13 languages or the centers could be fined $500 for the first violation and $1,000 for each additional violation.
After the Supreme Court ruled in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra that crisis pregnancy centers cannot be forced to promote abortions, the state agreed the law was unconstitutional and a permanent injunction was entered blocking the law. A California federal district court ordered the state of California to pay Liberty Counsel $399,000 for attorneys’ fees and costs regarding the victory in Mountain Right to Life v. Becerra, which now prohibits the state from enforcing the California Reproductive FACT Act, a law which compelled pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to promote abortion.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Once again, President Trump is keeping his promise to protect human life and all Americans’ freedom of conscience. No one in America should be forced to pay for or cover the murder of innocent unborn children. The Trump administration is putting California on notice that it must stop bullying people to subsidize human genocide,” said Staver.