Just before President Donald Trump took the stage at the annual anti-abortion March for Life on Friday, Jan. 24, his administration issued a warning to the state of California. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which is a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), announced that California would have to stop requiring private insurers to cover abortions, or the state would risk losing federal funding. The president has gone head to head with California over issues like abortion, climate change, immigration, and more, but Trump's threat about California's abortion coverage policies could pave the way for a major showdown.
Since 2014, California has required private health insurance companies to cover abortion, and notified insurers at the time the mandate was passed that refusing to do so would be a violation of the state constitution, and a 1975 state law. Two religious groups challenged this 2014 abortion mandate, but were unsuccessful. Now, the federal government is moving to take action against California for its abortion mandate. The administration claims California is allegedly in violation of the Weldon amendment, a federal measure which was passed by Congress in 2004 and has been readopted every year since then as part of HHS appropriations. The Weldon amendment states that the government cannot discriminate against "any institutional or individual health care entity ... on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions."
OCR Director Roger Severino tells Elite Daily that California's abortion mandate violates federal conscience protections for health care providers. "This is the fulfillment of a promise made by the American people's representatives after Roe v. Wade to say that nobody should be forced to cover or pay for other people’s abortions, regardless of what you think about the legality of the question of whether Roe v. Wade was good law," Severino says. He did not clarify to Elite Daily which federal funds may be at risk if the state does not comply.
In response to the OCR's notice of violation, California Gov. Gavin Newsom tells Elite Daily in a statement that "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." In 2016, the Obama administration confirmed California's compliance with the Weldon amendment by rejecting a "right of conscience" complaint from anti-abortion groups in California concerning the state's abortion mandate. At the time, the OCR said it completed an investigation into the mandate and found that it did not violate the Weldon amendment, per the Los Angeles Times. Severino says that the HHS, OCR, and the Office of the General Counsel have "disavowed" any positions held by the Obama administration.
California is one of six states which require private health insurers to cover abortion, according to reproductive health think tank the Guttmacher Institute. California is joined by Illinois, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Washington. Severino also indicated that the change was intended to give warning to other states considering "following in California's footsteps."
The announcement came the same day that Trump became the first president to speak in person at the annual anti-abortion rally March for Life. Previous presidents have spoken via video link. "Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House," Trump said at the rally.