Trump Stomps California Abortion Mandate

Today, the Trump Administration took action against a longstanding California policy forcing all insurance providers to include elective abortion in all health insurance policies sold in the state. According to a letter from the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS OCS) to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, California has 30 days to notify the Office whether it intends to continue enforcing its abortion coverage mandate, “or will instead agree to take corrective actions to come into compliance with the law.” Failure to comply jeopardizes billions of dollars in federal funds that flow to California each year.

Today’s letter is a response to two complaints filed by Life Legal Defense Foundation with the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS OCS) in 2014. The complaints, filed on behalf of a number of California churches and residents, protested the decision by the Director of California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) to mandate that all health insurance policies sold in California had to provide coverage for elective abortions.

As the HHS-OCR letter explains, the DMHC decision was the direct result of lobbying by abortion advocates, who had been outraged to learn that some religious employers had been able to secure, with DMHC approval,  health coverage for their employees that did not include elective abortion. As the letter explains, “Abortion providers and advocacy groups, including Planned Parenthood. . . . pressured DMHC to not only reverse its decision to allow the coverage changes, but also to make elective abortion coverage mandatory for all health care plans falling under DMHC’s jurisdiction.”

DMHC’s response to the “pressure campaign” by sending letters to the seven California health service plan insurers, ordering them to include coverage for abortion “without exclusion or limitation” in every plan they offered. This move “forced over 28,000 people out of plans that up until that time had chosen not to cover elective abortions.”

As explained in Life Legal’s complaints to the HHS-OCR, California’s actions violate the Weldon Amendment, which prohibits various sources of federal money from going to any state or local government that discriminates against any health care entity “on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”

Under the Obama administration, those complaints languished for over a year and a half, before we finally received a response, claiming that no violation was found.

However, under President Trump, the issue was re-examined, and today the Office of Civil Rights notified California of its determination that California’s abortion mandate is in violation of the Weldon Amendment, and that the state must correct its policy if it is to continue to receive funds under several federal appropriations bills

“Abortion advocates will claim that Trump is jeopardizing the well-being of California residents by threatening to withhold these federal funds,” said Life Legal’s Vice President for Legal Affairs Catherine Short, who filed the complaints. “In fact, it is pro-abortion extremists in the state government who have decided that their highest priority is to force every man, woman, and child, every employer and employee, every church and school in California to be complicit in taking the lives of the most innocent and vulnerable among us.”