On Friday, ahead of the March for Life, the Trump administration rapped the state of California with an enforcement action for discriminating against pro-life pregnancy help centers through its “Reproductive FACT Act.”
The law, which would have forced pregnancy centers to tell women where they could obtain an abortion, was struck down by the Supreme Court last summer in NIFLA v. Becerra, and then permanently enjoined by a federal court later in 2018.
Now, in its first enforcement action since being formed a year ago, the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division issued its determination on Friday that the California law, A.B. 775, did indeed violate federal conscience protections, namely the Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments. These amendments prohibit state and local governments that receive certain federal funds from discriminating against health care groups, like pregnancy centers, that don’t perform or refer for abortions.
“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,” said Roger Severino, director of Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. “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.”
The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division is a newly formed part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. It was formed last year to protect doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals from being forced to perform services that violate their moral or religious beliefs.
In issuing its finding and acknowledging the injunction’s role in halting the discriminatory law, the office closed the complaint and warned that If California were to violate the terms of the injunction it would be subject to a reopening of the complaints and further enforcement action by the Office for Civil Rights.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra responded to the finding petulantly, brushing the action off as an “empty claim” that “amounts to a political stunt on a day when President Trump’s trying to gin up his shrinking base.”
Another critic from the pro-abortion American Civil Liberties Union remarked on the late timing of the action, questioning what it accomplishes.
Indeed, with NIFLA in the rearview, it would seem that the conscience rights of life-affirming pregnancy centers are safe from the overbearing dictates of power-hungry politicians.
And yet, as states continue to make similarly onerous demands on pregnancy centers across the country, a statement like this from the federal government, even if months later, is still necessary.
California pregnancy centers may be protected from the Reproductive FACT Act, but states from Connecticut to Washington have continued to chase and enforce their own unconstitutional versions of the legislation, nevermind the Supreme Court, the Constitution, or the monetary costs that come with lawsuits.
In fact, following the NIFLA decision, the City of Baltimore finally agreed to settle for $1.1 million this fall after a decade-long push to force pregnancy centers to post signs stating that they do not offer or refer for abortions.
As states and cities wiggle around the NIFLA ruling to try and fit the tattered pieces of their mixed-up mandates back into the Constitution, the diligence of our federal government matters immensely, if anything to warn California and others that these oppressive measures do not belong in American law.
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