Trump administration threatens to cut health funding for California over abortion insurance law

The Trump administration is threatening to withhold federal funds from California over the state's requirement that all insurance plans cover abortion.

Officials with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) argued the insurance requirement forces people to pay for other people’s abortions and is a violation of federal law.

The state will have 30 days to come into compliance with federal law or risking losing some of the health funding it gets from HHS.

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“If states receive federal funds from HHS or other agencies, they can’t discriminate against health plans that decline to cover or pay for abortions. Period. Full stop,” said Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS.

The decision by HHS also serves as a warning to the five other states that mandate abortion coverage in insurance plans, including  Maine, Illinois and New York.

California passed a state law in 2014 requiring all insurance plans, including those offered by employers, to cover abortion. Religious organizations argued the requirement is illegal because it violates their religious rights.

The state law was challenged by the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit but the lawsuit was dismissed in court. The missionary then filed a complaint with HHS, which sided with the Catholic convent.

“Why can’t they just be left alone?” Severino said of the nuns. “Why must it be all or nothing? It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In fact, it’s against the law.”

He noted that the status quo for many years was that insurers and employers could choose to not cover abortion in their plans. That is still the case in many states.

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“If people want to get abortion coverage they can get it, but do not force other people to do it against their conscience,” Severino said.

He didn’t specify what funding California is at risk of losing, but noted that there are many options because the state is a “big consumer of HHS funds.”

“Our goal is compliance,” Severino said. “We want to see California and any other state that seeks to follow in California’s footsteps come into compliance and obey the law.”

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“California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won't back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop,” Newsom said.

He also noted that the Obama administration determined the state law did not conflict with what's known as the Weldon amendment, which HHS now says California has violated.

"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," Newsom said.

The announcement from HHS came on the same day as the March for Life, the annual march against abortion in Washington, D.C.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHR McMaster says president's policy to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is 'unwise' Cast of 'Parks and Rec' reunite for virtual town hall to address Wisconsin voters Biden says Trump should step down over coronavirus response MORE will become the first sitting president to speak at the march as he seeks to galvanize his conservative base ahead of the November election.

“This is an important day for people who respect the inherent dignity of life,” Severino said, referring to the march.

Anti-abortion groups applauded the decision from the Trump administration as "another important victory." 

"Abortion is not health care and no American should ever be forced to participate in the destruction of innocent human life," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List.

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The Trump administration has placed a priority on protecting the “conscience rights” of health care providers and consumers.

The Supreme Court will hear a case this year challenging a Trump rule that allows employers with religious objections to contraception to opt out of covering it in their insurance plans.

Another rule issued by the administration that was blocked in court would have penalized organizations that require employees to participate in abortions or other procedures that violate their consciences.

Severino said the California requirement also affects individuals who want insurance but don't want to buy plans that cover abortion. 

He said he has heard from people who dropped their plans after the requirement went into effect. 

"They can't in good conscience subsidize other people's abortions," he said. 

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Advocacy groups supportive of abortion rights called the administration's threat to withhold funds illegal. 

"This is an illegal attempt to bully and punish the state of California for ensuring its residents have comprehensive health coverage that includes abortion," said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center.

"All health insurance plans should cover all basic health services and the full range of pregnancy-related care.” 

Updated at 11:41 am.