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Outgoing administration moves to take $200 million from California as penalty for requiring health plans cover safe, legal abortion; abruptly targets Vermont medical center

Washington, DC — Today, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar announced, in a last-minute gesture to extremists fighting to reduce access to care, that the outgoing administration plans to withhold $200 million in desperately needed funds from the state of California, because of its requirement that health insurance plans cover legal abortion. This maneuver comes as COVID-19 cases continue to accelerate in this country — with over 300,000 lives already lost — and with less than 40 days before the transition to the Joe Biden and Kamala Harris administration.  

Also today, the Justice Department abruptly filed a lawsuit in Vermont federal district court against the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center for what it claims are violations of federal refusal statutes that allow individuals to refuse to participate in medical procedures — including abortion — that they oppose based on their religious or moral beliefs. UVM Medical Center disputes these claims.

Statement from Alexis McGill Johnson, president, Planned Parenthood Action Fund:

“Abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care, and must be treated as such by health insurance companies, and by the federal government. This move by the outgoing Trump administration is part of their final, desperate attempt to reduce access to health care, including abortion, in the middle of a pandemic — it’s a cruel and dangerous play for attention with real consequences. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the presidential election by over 7 million votes because people in this country demanded a more fair and just society with timely access to health care, including sexual and reproductive care. We stand with the people of California and Vermont who will be hurt by these attacks, and look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration to reverse harms like this one, and expand health care access in this country.”

Statement from Jodi Hicks, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California:

“With less than 40 days until a new administration is in place, the Trump administration is once again attacking California for proudly protecting and advancing abortion access — the same tired tactic we’ve seen over the past four years. This latest political stunt to try to punish California for unequivocally supporting abortion access, while we grapple with surging COVID-19 rates and an economic recession, is nothing short of cruel and oppressive. Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California will work with our partners at every level to stop this unlawful withholding of critical funds and fight to ensure that abortion access and coverage doesn’t depend on where you live or what kind of insurance you have.”

Statement from Meagan Gallagher, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund:

"For patients, health care is personal, not political. Government interference should never determine patient care. Barriers to safe, legal abortion infringe on people’s rights and dignity, and go against every commitment we make to protect access to care. This latest attack on UVM Medical Center is nothing more than a political game by a lame duck administration. We will continue doing everything we can to ensure that patients have access to compassionate abortion care.”

With its action against California, the Trump administration’s HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is claiming to enforce an appropriations amendment known as the Weldon Amendment, which allows certain individuals and health care entities to refuse to provide abortion care, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer patients for abortion. Notably, HHS previously investigated complaints alleging that California’s state law violated the Weldon Amendment and determined in 2016 there was no violation. As part of his promise to protect and expand access to reproductive health care, President-elect Biden must issue a budget that eliminates the Weldon Amendment.

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Planned Parenthood Action Fund is an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit membership organization formed as the advocacy and political arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Action Fund engages in educational, advocacy and electoral activity, including grassroots organizing, legislative advocacy, and voter education.

Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California (PPAC) is the state public policy office representing California’s seven separately incorporated Planned Parenthood affiliates. Through advocacy and electoral action, PPAC promotes sound public policy in areas of sexual and reproductive health care and sex education.

Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization formed as the advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. The Action Fund engages in educational activity, including legislative advocacy, and grassroots organizing.

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