The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Trump Administration has repeatedly stated that conscience rights are a priority, and it has taken strides to do just that. HHS has issued several regulations aimed at conscience protection in contraception, insurance plans, Title X grant funding, and strengthening existing conscience laws. A year ago, HHS created the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. This is the first time a federal office for civil rights has established a separate division “dedicated to ensuring compliance with and enforcement of laws that protect conscience and free exercise of religion in healthcare and human services.”
Last Friday, the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of HHS notified the State of California that the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency) Act violates the federal pro-life Coates-Snowe and Weldon Amendments. This is the first time any state has been found in violation of these amendments which protect the conscience rights of healthcare entities and healthcare workers from performing, participating, advertising, or referring for abortions.
In 2016, California enacted the FACT Actwhich forced all healthcare providers in the state, including pro-life pregnancy care centers, to advertise and refer for abortion. A group of pro-life pregnancy centers sued. In June the U.S. Supreme Court, in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, 138 S. Ct. 2361 (2018) (“NIFLA”) held that the FACT Act was unconstitutional as compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment. Ever since the FACT Act was introduced, CWA and other pro-religious liberty and pro-life groups have been arguing that this Act is also a clear violation of federal laws protecting conscience rights.
Although California is prohibited from enforcing the FACT Act because of the Supreme Court ruling, being found in violation of federal conscience laws by HHS is still significant. This not only tells California they cannot shove aside the conscience rights of those who are pro-life, but it also puts other states on notice and at a pertinent time.
Just this week, New York enacted a law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that codified a woman’s “right” to an abortion, removed abortion from New York’s criminal code, and allows women to have abortions after24 weeks when “there is an absence of fetal viability, or at any time when necessary to protect a patient’s life or health.” Not only is this unbelievably horrible, but New York already has been cited for serious conscience concerns and violations for health care workers opposed to an abortion.
New York’s radical law is not about protecting abortion rights; it’s about aggressively promoting abortion, and Planned Parenthood couldn’t be more ecstatic. It is also far out of the mainstream American view on abortion. The New York Legislature missed the memo that 75% of Americanssupport significant abortion restrictions and do not support abortion after the first trimester. Although Planned Parenthood and NARAL were in the New York Senate chamber cheering for a law that can’t get much closer than legalizing infanticide outright, we know science and truth are on the side of life.