Trump Cuts Off California Over Newsom's Abortion Mandate

Feds to withhold $200 million amid conscience-protection dispute

December 16, 2020

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it is withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid funding from California over the state's abortion insurance mandate.

The administration will withhold $200 million in Medicaid funding because of a state regulation that requires health insurers to cover elective abortions. The announcement marks the culmination of a yearlong conflict between the administration and Democratic governor Gavin Newsom over the regulation, which the White House said violates federal conscience laws.

"We have informed California that this policy clearly violates federal conscience laws, but the state refuses to fix the issue and comply," Department of Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said. "Accordingly, we plan to withhold $200 million in federal Medicaid funds from the state in the first quarter of 2021, and unless California amends its policies, we will seek to withhold an additional $200 million every quarter until it complies."

The Newsom administration criticized the move as "presidential overreach."

"It's wrong that the Trump Administration would threaten Californians' health just to score cheap political points—and during a global pandemic," Newsom said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. "We will continue to stand up for reproductive health and push back against this extreme presidential overreach."

In January, the Trump administration informed California that the state is in violation of federal law by requiring health insurance providers to cover abortion services. California instituted the regulation in 2014. Two religious institutions in the state filed complaints with the Health and Human Services Department's Office of Civil Rights, and the department completed an investigation and threatened the state with funding cuts.

Newsom defended the requirement at the time.

"California will continue to protect a woman's right to choose, and we won't back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody—full stop," Newsom said.

The announcement comes as President-elect Joe Biden announced the selection of California attorney general Xavier Becerra (D.) to succeed Azar as head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Republican lawmakers and pro-life groups have criticized the pick, jeopardizing Becerra's chances of being confirmed by the Senate.

The Biden transition team and Becerra's office did not respond to requests for comment.