Lockyer Files Suit To Block Abortion Amendment in Appropriations Bill
Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) on Tuesday filed suit against the Bush administration claiming that an amendment to the fiscal year 2005 federal omnibus appropriations bill -- the Hyde-Weldon Amendment, which eliminates federal funding to agencies that "discriminat[e]" against health care providers who decline to provide abortions -- is unconstitutional, the Sacramento Bee reports (Furillo, Sacramento Bee, 1/26).
The $388 billion federal spending bill includes an amendment under which federal, state or local agencies cannot force physicians, hospitals, health insurers, HMOs or other health care entities to provide abortion services or referrals. The provision will extend to many health care providers a "conscience protection" that previously was reserved for medical students who oppose receiving abortion training.
The amendment will affect all states but mostly those that use state funds to finance abortion-related services for Medicaid beneficiaries, such as California. Forty-five states currently allow health care providers to refuse to offer abortion services without penalty.
Under the provision, states that enforce laws relating to the provision of abortion services against hospitals, clinics and insurers that oppose abortion will become ineligible for some federal funds for education, labor, health and human services programs (California Healthline, 12/9).
The suit alleges that the amendment would require California to choose between upholding state law -- which requires health care providers to perform abortions in an emergency or refer them to another provider in a timely manner -- and losing $49 billion in federal funds. The suit also claims that the amendment uses funding from unrelated programs to enforce the policy, which "amounts to coercion and exceeds congressional power," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In addition, the suit states that the amendment fails to clearly define "discrimination," complicating state efforts to comply with the rule (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/26).
Lockyer, who was joined by Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell in the lawsuit, said, "The Weldon amendment tramples on women's constitutional rights, state sovereignty and the interests of California taxpayers. Equality for women is illusory unless they remain free to make their own health care decisions" (Reuters, 1/25).
O'Connell said the amendment "threatens to hold funding for schools and other important government services hostage in an effort to force states to restrict women's reproductive health options."
The Chronicle reports that the case was assigned by random drawing to U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/26).
Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.), who wrote the amendment, said it "in no way infringes" on a woman's right to have an abortion and that the amendment states that state and local governments "can't force the unwilling" to perform abortions. He added, "Mr. Lockyer seems anxious to preserve California's right to coerce such unwilling providers into performing abortions" (Sacramento Bee, 1/26).
Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee said, "It's well-established that Congress has this authority, and Congress is supreme. If they don't like this, they should write to their congressmen" (Kravets, AP/Fresno Bee, 1/25).
Nancy Keenan, president of the NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the amendment is a "sneak attack on a woman's right to choose." She said in a statement, "I'm glad Attorney General Lockyer is taking action to make sure the nation's largest state can continue to ensure that women control their own private medical decisions" (Sacramento Bee, 1/26).