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January 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today that California is violating federal law by trying to force churches to pay for abortions.

The announcement comes the morning of the 47th annual March for Life, at which President Donald Trump is slated to speak. He will be the first U.S. president to ever attend the march, which is the largest human rights demonstration in the world.

A lengthy legal battle has been underway since 2014, when California enacted regulations forcing all employers to pay for health insurance plans that cover elective abortions, regardless of religious or moral objections to funding abortion deaths. Under these regulations, all abortions are considered “basic health care” and “medically necessary.”

Churches were not even informed when abortion coverage was added to their health plans, according to Alliance Defending Freedom. 

The HHS Office for Civil Rights announced that it issued a Notice of Violation to the state of California, formally notifying the Golden State that it cannot impose universal abortion coverage mandates on health insurance plans and issuers in violation of federal conscience laws.  

California has deprived over 28,000 people of plans that did not cover elective abortion, but now must cover abortion due to California’s mandate, according to HHS.

“With this Notice, OCR requests that California inform OCR, within thirty days, whether California will continue to enforce its requirement that all health plans cover elective abortions, or whether it will agree to take corrective action and remedy the effect of its discriminatory conduct,” HHS said in a press release.

It warned:

If, after 30 days, OCR does not receive sufficient assurance that California will come into compliance with federal law, OCR will forward the Notice of Violation and the evidence supporting OCR’s findings in this matter to the HHS funding components from which California receives funding for appropriate action under applicable grants and contracts regulations. This action may ultimately result in limitations on continued receipt of certain HHS funds.

Notably, last year, the Supreme Court of California ruled against the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, an apostolate that helps the poor, saying their health insurance plans must fund abortions. The Supreme Court of California upheld the pro-abortion regulation by reinterpretting a 1974 law to mean that abortion is “medically necessary.” 

But OCR has sided with the Missionaries, who along with Skyline Wesleyan Church had appealed to OCR for help. 

OCR cited the Weldon Amendment, which prohibits federal agencies and programs, as well as state and local governments that receive LHHS funding from discriminating against health care professionals, health care facilities, health insurance plans, and other health care entities “on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions” without any exceptions. The Weldon Amendment, like the Hyde Amendment, is renewed annually.

The Weldon Amendment was renewed last month as part of the December government spending bills.

HHS noted this is not the first time California has been found to be violating federal statutes protecting freedom of conscience: “In January 2019, OCR found that California violated the Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments when it subjected pregnancy resource centers in the state to potential fines and discrimination for refusing to post notices referring for free or low-cost abortions.”

“Once again, President Trump’s administration is delivering on his promise to protect human life and all Americans’ freedom of conscience,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Under President Trump, HHS has been vigorously enforcing the statutes Congress passed to protect Americans’ consciences and institutionalizing these protections within the department’s civil rights work.”

Azar spoke at the Family Research Council’s annual ProLifeCon digital summit this morning, as he did last year.

“No one in America should be forced to pay for or cover other people’s abortions,” said Roger Severino, Director of OCR. “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.”  

In August 2019, OCR also found that the Univesity of Vermont Medical Center (UVMC) violated federal law by forcing a nurse to commit an abortion. HHS said it “repeatedly” sought cooperation from UVMMC, but it “refused” to change its policies, provide relevant documents, or produce witnesses. 

UVMC was given 30 days to verify whether it will change its policies to comply with federal law and grant rules. Otherwise, it was informed, the case would be referred to HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for potential revocation of federal funds.