Trump Administration Enforces Federal Conscience Protection Laws in California and Vermont

Picture of a figure representing a three-month-old fetus taken on March 12, 2008 at the altar of the Catholic church Nossa Senhora da Paz in Rio de Janiero's Ipanema neighbourhood on March 12, 2008 where it was put to protest against abortion. More than 600 such figures were distributed among …

The Trump administration announced Wednesday its enforcement of federal conscience protection laws with regard to the funding of, and participation in, abortions.

Vice President Mike Pence hosted a “Life Is Winning” event at the White House, during which HHS made the announcement of enforcement of the conscience protection laws.

Pence said in his remarks at the event:

I believe what we have demonstrated over these past four years is that when men and women who cherish the sanctity of life come together, let their voices be heard; when we rally behind great leaders at every level who will stand without apology for life, we can make extraordinary progress.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stated that, first, it will disallow $200 million in federal Medicaid funding going to California due to the state’s unlawful mandate that all healthcare plans cover abortion without exclusion or limitation.

As Breitbart News reported in November 2019, the California Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit brought by Catholic missionaries that sought to overturn the state mandate that forces them to pay insurance premiums that subsidize abortions.

In August 2019, a state appeals court told the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, an organization of Catholic women, that a woman’s choice to have an abortion must be considered “medically necessary,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

In 2014, under Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown, California adopted regulations that under Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) all voluntary abortions are “basic health care” and “medically necessary” and must be provided by all health insurance plans with no allowance for religious or moral objections.

The missionaries argued that only abortions to save the life of the mother are “medically necessary” and maintained the state unlawfully adopted the new regulations without an opportunity for public comment.

In April 2019, it was discovered that, while the general public was not given an opportunity to comment on the regulations, abortion industry giant Planned Parenthood provided its input.

Internal emails between Planned Parenthood and the California Health and Human Services agency in February 2014 revealed the abortion chain pressured the state agency to force religious groups and churches to cover elective abortions.

Catholic News Agency reported that three churches filed a notice of appeal in federal court that used the emails revealing the discussions between Planned Parenthood and the state health agency as evidence.

HHS said in its announcement regarding enforcement of federal conscience laws:

If the State does not come into compliance, additional disallowances will be imposed at a rate of $200 million per quarter. As a result of California’s mandate, health plan issuers were compelled to remove coverage exclusions and limitations regarding abortion coverage, which forced employer groups associated with over 28,000 individuals out of plans that until that time had chosen to not cover elective abortions.

In mandating abortion insurance coverage, California violates the federal Weldon Amendment, HHS continued, an antidiscrimination law that protects Americans from being forced to participate in, or pay for, abortions.

In January, HHS announced on the day of the March for Life event that OCR was issuing “a Notice of Violation to the state of California, formally notifying California that it cannot impose universal abortion coverage mandates on health insurance plans and issuers in violation of federal conscience laws.”

Nevertheless, California has refused to comply with the Weldon Amendment, despite demands from OCR to do so.

Additionally, HHS has referred the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for illegally forcing a nurse to participate in an elective abortion over her expressed conscience-based objections. DOJ has subsequently filed a lawsuit against the UVMMC.

In May 2018, the nurse filed a conscience and religious discrimination complaint with OCR against the medical center that is the recipient of federal grant funds.

HHS explained further:

Although UVMMC could have readily, and without interruption to patient services, accommodated the religious or moral objections to elective abortion of its health care personnel, UVMMC has nevertheless illegally assigned numerous objecting personnel to such procedures. In violation of the plain language of the Church Amendments, UVMMC’s “conflict of care policy” reserves the right to disregard nurses’ expressed religious or moral objections to participating in abortion procedures.

OCR issued a Notice of Violation letter in August 2019, requesting UVMMC to comply with the Church Amendments and take other corrective action.

“[H]owever, UVMMC has refused to voluntarily comply with federal law and its contractual obligations as a federal grant recipient,” HHS stated, adding it has referred the case to DOJ which filed a federal lawsuit against the medical center.

However, Dr. Stephen Leffler, the medical center’s CEO, said the threats from OCR are “an attack on reproductive care,” according to Breaking 911.

“Since we were first contacted by OCR last year, we have taken a thorough look at all of our policies and practices — and have modified and strengthened them — to respect the many beliefs of the thousands of caregivers that work here,” he added. “OCR’s latest threats are not just baseless from a legal standpoint, they’re an attack on reproductive care and we will do everything we can to protect our patients’ access to the services they need.”

However, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division, said, “No institution or person should force any health care provider to perform an abortion if doing so would violate the provider’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

“This kind of indecent coercion violates everything this country stands for,” he said.

“Under President Trump, HHS has worked like never before to enforce laws Congress has passed to protect Americans’ religious freedom and conscience rights,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “California and the University of Vermont Medical Center have violated federal conscience laws and refused to work with us to take corrective action, so we are now taking action to hold them to account.”

Roger Severino, OCR Director said, “Entities that receive HHS funds should think twice before flouting federal law and refusing to come into compliance.”

“As a result of our actions today, California will be losing $200 million in federal funds per quarter, and UVMMC will have to answer for its conduct in court.”  he added, “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.”

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said, under the Trump administration, “life is truly winning in America.”

“Federal conscience laws are more essential than ever at a time when pro-abortion Democrat-led states have tried to force health care professionals and entities, like nurses and insurance providers, to participate in abortion,” she said. “Abortion is not health care; it is the destruction of innocent human life.”


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