- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2020

The Trump administration threatened Friday to cut off certain federal funds to California over its requirement that medical insurers cover elective abortions, hours before President Trump made history by speaking at the March for Life.

The Health and Human Services Department Office for Civil Rights issued a Notice of Violation to the state “formally notifying California that it cannot impose universal abortion coverage mandates on health insurance plans and issuers in violation of federal conscience laws.”

The department cited two complaints, one filed by the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, a Catholic order of sisters, and the Skyline Wesleyan Church, both of whose religious beliefs preclude them from covering elective abortions.

If California fails to take corrective action, the state could face “limitations on continued receipt of certain HHS funds.”

“No one in America should be forced to pay for or cover other people’s abortions,” OCR Director Roger Severino said in a statement. “We are putting California on notice that it must stop forcing people of good will to subsidize the taking of human life, not only because it’s the moral thing to do, but because it’s the law.”

The action came hours before Mr. Trump was to speak at the 47th March for Life, becoming the first president to address the annual gathering in person. He spoke at the rally via satellite in 2018 and 2019, and Vice President Mike Pence addressed the crowd in person last year.

A California appeals court upheld in August state regulations requiring coverage for all abortions, and the California Supreme Court rejected in November a challenge to the ruling brought by the Missionary Guadalupanas.

Pro-life groups cheered the Trump administration’s latest action against California. In January, HHS found that California had violated federal conscience statutes in January by subjecting pro-life pregnancy centers to potential fines.

“No person, organization, or healthcare provider should ever be forced by the government to participate in the abhorrent act of abortion,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “The Trump administration is continuing its march to protect the freedom to believe and live one’s life according to those beliefs without fear of discrimination by the government.”

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California denounced the notice, calling it “the same tired tactic we have seen from the Trump administration in its attempts to restrict and ban abortion.”

“In a state where the courts have declared that health plans must treat abortion and pregnancy care equally — as they are both basic health care services under California law — we are still seeing major inequities in accessing abortion through insurance,” the affiliates said in a statement.

About 28,000 insured Californians have been affected by the mandate to cover abortion, according to HHS.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents four California churches, including Skyline, said California’s Department of Managed Health Care has for years “demonstrated hostility to churches by forcing them to pay for elective abortions.”

“We commend the Trump administration and HHS’s Office for Civil Rights for investigating and taking 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,” said ADF legal counsel Denise Harle.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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