January 18, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – California violated federal conscience law in enforcing its so-called Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act against pro-life pregnancy centers, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced Friday.
Last summer the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Reproductive FACT Act, which forced crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to provide written information advertising how to obtain abortions in the state at taxpayer expense, and required centers without medical licenses to post disclaimers that they do not offer medical services.
In November, a federal appeals court enjoined the state from enforcing the law against CPCs. Now, the Trump administration has found California in violation of the federal Weldon and Coats-Snowe amendments in addition to the Constitution, according to an OCR press release. The office undertook an independent investigation into the matter, leading to the first enforcement action of OCR’s new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division.
“The Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments prohibit state and local governments that receive certain federal funds from subjecting health care entities to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not perform or refer for abortions,” the office explains. Its investigation determined the statute unlawfully required “‘licensed covered facilities’ to refer for abortion,” and subjected “‘unlicensed covered facilities’ to discrimination by targeting them for burdensome and unnecessary notice requirements.”
The official Notice of Violation sent by OCR to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says it considers the matter closed in light of the state’s agreement to abide by the earlier court injunction, but warns that future enforcement of the FACT Act would risk a “reopening of the complaints and further enforcement action by OCR.”
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court blocked California’s blatant discrimination against non-profits that give life-affirming options to women facing unplanned pregnancies,” OCR director Roger Severino said. “Our violation finding underscores not only that California must follow the Constitution, but that it also must respect federal conscience protection laws when it accepts federal funds.”
For his part, Becerra responded by calling the announcement an “empty claim” that “amounts to a political stunt on a day when President Trump’s trying to gin up his shrinking base,” the Washington Post reports. American Civil Liberties Union “reproductive freedom” deputy director Brigitte Amiri also questioned the timing of the announcement, given the case’s resolution months ago.
The Trump administration announced the creation of the new HHS conscience office last January, explaining that it would specialize in enforcing “laws and regulations that protect conscience and prohibit coercion on issues such as abortion and assisted suicide” and others in HHS-funded or conducted programs,” as well as protecting “the free exercise of religion and prohibit discrimination” in HHS programs.