The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that it plans to cut $200 million in funding for California’s Medicaid program after the state refused to comply with its demand to drop a 2014 abortion rule, CNN reports.
"We are taking enforcement action against the state of California for imposing universal abortion coverage mandates on health insurance in the state," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. "We have informed California that this policy clearly violates federal conscience laws, but the state refuses to fix the issue and comply."
Roger Severino, who heads the HHS Office for Civil Rights, warned the state in January that its 2014 rule requiring employers and private insurance companies to cover abortion costs violated the Weldon Amendment, which protects medical providers with objections to abortion. He said on Wednesday that HHS would withhold $200 million each quarter that California does not comply.
"Entities that receive HHS funds should think twice before flouting federal law and refusing to come into compliance," he 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."
HHS ruled California rule was legal:
The action comes despite HHS finding that the California rule was legal in 2016.
HHS determined that the rule protects providers with objections but not private insurance companies that don’t have objections but are acting on behalf of clients with objections.
“At the time (California) sent the letter, all of the insurers offered plans that covered abortion, demonstrating that they have no religious or moral objection to that procedure,” the office said at the time.
Biden can reverse order:
The withholding kicks in in January, Trump’s final month in office. Biden’s HHS pick, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, is a longtime supporter of abortion rights who sued the administration over its anti-choice restrictions.
Becerra said earlier this year that Severino's threat "contradicts" the agency's previous findings, "ignores the legal limits of the Weldon Amendment [and] exacerbates the Trump Administration's prior defiance of those same limits." Cutting off funds "is not in accordance with the law, and raises new constitutional concerns, including impeding California's sovereignty," Becerra said.
Rights groups slammed the Trump administration’s threat.
"The Trump Administration's latest political stunt to punish California for ensuring coverage for abortion services, in the middle of a global health crisis, is nothing short of cruel and oppressive," Planned Parenthood California leader Jodi Hicks said.
"To refuse to provide insurance coverage for people who choose to end their pregnancies while providing coverage for those who choose to give birth would be discriminatory and a violation of fundamental constitutional rights," argued the ACLU of Northern California. "It is outrageous that in the height of the pandemic, [HHS]-- an agency that is supposed to protect patients' rights—would withhold needed health care funds, jeopardizing the health and safety of millions of Californians, based solely on the political agenda of abortion opponents."