The announcement came as President Trump was expected to address thousands of antiabortion demonstrators gathered for the March for Life, an annual rally to mark the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide. The warning is the latest in a series of antiabortion regulations and actions the Department of Health and Human Services has taken to win support from Trump’s evangelical Christian base, which helped elect him in 2016 and is seen as key to his 2020 reelection prospects.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) dismissed the threat as a political maneuver.
“The Trump administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what’s right,” he said in a statement. “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.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said on Twitter that California would defend the law.
“The President & VP are once again attacking women’s health in order to grandstand at today’s anti-choice rally,” Becerra wrote. He added: “While it’s unfortunate that the President’s moral compass always points to sowing division for cheap political gain, California won’t be deterred.”
Six states, including California, require private health plans to cover abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights think tank. Eleven states have laws that restrict abortion coverage in private health plans, including those offered on the Affordable Care Act’s individual insurance market.
In a conference call Friday with reporters, Roger Severino, director of HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, cited an amendment that is routinely added to HHS appropriations bills as the legal basis for the administration’s argument that California is violating federal law.
The Weldon amendment says that no such funds “may be made available to a federal agency or program, or to a state or local government, if such agency, program, or government subjects any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”
Severino also said HHS took this action after it received complaints from two California groups: Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit and Skyline Wesleyan Church.
He declined to identify what specific funding stream the Trump administration might pull.
“There is a process, if we do not reach accord, that could lead to revocation of streams of federal funding,” he said. “California is a big consumer of HHS funds. We’re giving them 30 days so that we don’t have to cross that bridge.”
Antiabortion groups heralded the announcement and the administration’s work on the social conservative agenda.
“President Trump has governed as the most pro-life president in history,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List. “Abortion is not health care and no American should ever be forced to participate in the destruction of innocent human life.”
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most cases, and 69 percent said that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned. Seventy-nine percent believe the decision is best made by women themselves in consultation with their doctors, rather than by lawmakers.
Majorities of Americans also support laws that require women to wait 24 hours between meeting a health-care provider and getting an abortion, and laws that require doctors to show and describe ultrasound images to them.
“While Trump stands with the small number of Americans who want politicians to interfere with their personal health decisions, we’ll be standing with the nearly 80 percent of Americans who support abortion access,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “We will never stop fighting for all of the people in this country who need access to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion.”
Under Trump, HHS has taken numerous steps to advance the agenda of social conservatives. Chief among them was the elimination of Planned Parenthood from the federal family planning program, a long-sought goal of Vice President Pence.
The administration adopted new rules for the program, which were upheld by a federal court, that made clinics ineligible for funding if they provided abortions or made referrals for them. Planned Parenthood, previously the largest recipient of those funds, pulled out of the program rather than comply.
Earlier this month, nine federal agencies, including HHS, also advanced rules that would strengthen protections for students who want to pray or worship in public schools and proposed changes to make it easier for religious groups that provide social services to access federal funds.
But the administration has seen some of its social conservative agenda stopped in the courts. A federal judge voided the HHS “conscience rule” that would have allowed health-care providers to opt out of performing certain procedures, such as abortions or sterilizations, based on religious or moral objections. The administration is appealing that decision.