State Lawsuit Challenging Federal Appropriations Bill Provision Related to Abortion Services Can Proceed
A lawsuit alleging that a provision in a federal appropriations bill would prevent California from enforcing state laws guaranteeing women's access to abortion services in emergencies or lose federal funding can proceed, a federal judge ruled on Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/29).
Under the Hyde-Wellman amendment to the 2005 federal omnibus appropriations bills, federal, state or local agencies cannot require 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.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell in January filed the lawsuit, which alleges that the provision is unconstitutional (California Healthline, 1/26). The suit alleges that the provision violates Roe v. Wade -- the 1973 Supreme Court decision that struck down state abortion bans -- because it does not specify exceptions in cases of medical emergency.
The suit also states that the provision will block the state from enforcing a state law that classifies a medical emergency as an exception to health care providers' right to refuse to participate in abortion services and a state law that requires all health care facilities in the state to provide emergency services, including abortion, to anyone who requests them or to help individuals obtain the services elsewhere.
The suit claims that the state could lose about $49 billion in federal funds if it does not comply with the federal law.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco denied a motion by the federal government to dismiss the case, ruling that the state has "sufficiently alleged an injury to California's sovereign interest in the continued enforceability of its own statutes" to proceed with the suit (Richman, Oakland Tribune, 5/29).
Department of Justice officials had sought to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the provision could not be challenged because it has not yet been enforced in the state (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/29).