OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) called out the Biden Administration for allowing California to violate federal law and the conscience rights of Californians who do not want to pay for abortions. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has the responsibility of investigating violations of conscience rights and subsequently taking enforcement action, as was done under the Trump Administration. But instead of continuing to enforce the law, the Biden Administration is ignoring the law to the benefit of the abortion industry and pro-abortion states like California.
“Once again, the most pro-abortion President in American history is making it clear that he and his administration believe it is acceptable to violate Americans’ conscience rights and force all Californians to pay for abortions through every insurance plan offered in the state,” said Lankford. “I will not stand idly by and allow President Biden and Secretary Becerra to continue to violate the law and Americans’ conscience rights. This has to stop. It is indicative of this Administration that they hired the Attorney General of California, who is responsible for conscience violations, to oversee the conscience protections for all Americans.”
Over the years, faith-based entities in California have filed a number of complaints to OCR about California’s insistence that all insurance plans cover abortions in violation of their conscience rights under the Weldon Amendment. Under the Trump Administration, OCR determined that the State of California and the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) violated the Weldon Amendment. Because California refused to come into compliance with the law, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the disallowance of $200 million per quarter in federal funds to California beginning in January 2020 for an annual disallowance total of $800,000,000 until the State complied with the Weldon Amendment. However, recently the Biden Administration reversed course to force all insurance plans in the state to cover abortions.
Just one day before HHS OCR notified California of its decision to allow them to continue to violate the law, Lankford led a bicameral group of Senators and Congressmen in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra demanding answers on why the Department of Justice (DOJ) dropped a lawsuit against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC), which has received federal funds from HHS since 1998, for forcing a nurse to assist with an abortion procedure against the nurse’s registered conscience objections and in clear violation of long-standing federal law.
Lankford continues to lead the Senate in standing up for the conscience rights of all Americans. In 2018 Lankford supported the creation of the HHS Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the OCR. Lankford introduced his Conscience Protection Act to protect health care providers and health insurers from government discrimination if they decline to participate in medical procedures, like abortion, that violate their consciences. This bill would also give health care providers a private right of action so that victims of abortion discrimination, like the entities who are compelled to include abortion coverage under California’s mandate and the nurse at UVMMC, can have their day in court even when the Obama and now Biden Administrations abandon their obligation to enforce the law.
Lankford opposed Becerra to serve as HHS secretary in part because of his hostility toward conscience protections, including trying to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide contraception. During Becerra’s confirmation hearings, Lankford pressed him on how he plans to protect Americans’ conscience rights and ensure faith-based entities receive fair treatment. Lankford questioned Becerra on why the department is working to eliminate the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the HHS OCR.
Lankford has also repeatedly requested information from HHS on the status of California’s enforcement, including in questions for the record after a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget in June. HHS ignored this congressional inquiry and instead responded by allowing California to violate the law.