The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today that the Trump administration will withhold $200 million in Medicaid funding from California over its insistence that most businesses, including religious organizations, cover abortion.
The Weldon Amendment is a federal law that protects the conscience rights of employers from being forced to include abortion on health care coverage plans. However, the state of California doesn’t agree. In 2014, the state reinterpreted the Knox Keene Act, a local piece of legislation, to target religious organizations and force them to cover abortions.
Per Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the state even told insurers not to tell churches and other religious entities about the policy change.
In response, several sued the state, and the case was recently argued in front of the Ninth Circuit in November. (See The Daily Citizen’s coverage here.)
In addition to the case, the Trump administration told California in January that if it didn’t honor the Weldon Amendment, the government would act. Unfortunately, like so many things in 2020, the COVID pandemic upended the department’s focus.
But now, HHS has made good on its promise.
“So we are now taking action to hold them to account,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said.
“Whatever one thinks of the legality of abortion, no one should be punished for declining to pay for or assist in the taking of human life,” Roger Severino, director of HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, said in the statement.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that the decision was an attempt “to score cheap political points.” President-elect Joe Biden responded in a written comment that he “will continue to stand up for reproductive health and push back against this extreme presidential overreach.”
ADF represents the churches involved in the lawsuit and released a statement praising the decision.
Legal Counsel Elissa Graves said, “Churches should be free to operate according to their faith without being threatened by the government. For years, California’s Department of Managed Health Care, in collaboration with Planned Parenthood, has demonstrated hostility toward churches by forcing them to fund elective abortion coverage, against the deeply held beliefs of churches and their members. We applaud the Trump administration and HHS’s Office for Civil Rights for investigating and taking this corrective action against the state of California for its flawed policies, persistent violation of federal law, and its willful disregard for the civil rights and conscience rights of its citizens.”
Biden, who has nominated California’s pro-abortion Attorney General Xavier Becerra for HHS Secretary, is likely to overturn the decision once he is in office.
Photo from Shutterstock