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Trump administration to withhold Medicaid funding from California over abortion insurance requirement

The Trump administration will withhold $200 million in Medicaid funding from California in the first quarter of 2021 over the state's mandate that health insurance providers include coverage for elective abortion, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced on Wednesday.

An additional $200 million in funding will be withheld for each quarter in which the state continues with that policy, said Azar, failing to recognize that the Trump administration ends on January 20. HHS' Office for Civil Rights had previously issued a violation notice to California over its requirement that all insurance plans cover elective abortions, and threatened to cut funding. The Trump administration maintains that California does not have the constitutional right to make such a requirement. 

Azar made the announcement during a White House event celebrating the Trump administration's work to fight abortion. The Medicaid funds at issue help pay for health care coverage to low-income individuals, those with disabilities, and some older adults. 

"We're taking enforcement action against the state of California for imposing universal abortion coverage mandates on health insurance in the state," Azar told a supportive audience. "We have informed California that this policy clearly violates federal conscience laws but the state refuses to fix the issue and comply. 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."

California Governor Gavin Newsom said the Trump administration is threatening health for "cheap political points." 

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

Azar also announced the Justice Department is suing a Vermont hospital that the Trump administration says required a Catholic nurse to assist in an abortion procedure even though she had previously declared her objections to the procedure and other nurses were available. 

During the White House event Wednesday, Pence reflected on the "great progress we've made for life." President Trump, who was also at the White House, did not attend the event. 

"I believe with all my heart that everyone in this room right along with our president has made a difference for life," Pence said. "So today we really gather to reflect on the great progress we've made for life under President Donald Trump and with all of your collective support. But also to thank all of you. And to urge you as we promise to never stop fighting for the cause for life."

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