Federal court throws out state challenge to abortion-refusal law

June 16, 2008

A federal judge tossed out California’s constitutional challenge to a US statute that strengthens physicians’ right to refuse to perform abortions because of their personal beliefs, according to American Medical News (4/14/08). The Weldon Amendment extends “conscience” protection to hospitals and health plans by prohibiting federal, state, and local agencies from taking action against doctors or institutions that opt not to offer abortions. Government bodies that violate the measure risk losing federal funding.

A federal judge tossed out California’s constitutional challenge to a US statute that strengthens physicians’ right to refuse to perform abortions because of their personal beliefs, according to American Medical News (4/14/08). The Weldon Amendment extends “conscience” protection to hospitals and health plans by prohibiting federal, state, and local agencies from taking action against doctors or institutions that opt not to offer abortions. Government bodies that violate the measure risk losing federal funding.

California, along with 45 other states, also has its own “conscience” protection, giving doctors the right to decline to provide abortions for moral, ethical, or religious reasons. But California also has another state law that requires health care entities to provide or refer emergency abortions when the life or health of the pregnant woman is at risk. If enforced, this state law could cause California to lose as much as $50 billion in federal funds under the Weldon Amendment. State officials argued that the amendment was unconstitutional because it lacked an explicit exception for such scenarios and interfered with California’s right to carry out its statute.

US District Judge Jeffrey S. White rejected those claims, saying that the state did not show that patients or the state have been harmed by the seeming conflict. The judge indicated that only if a woman is denied emergency abortion-related services and California enforces its law and the federal government denies or threatens to take away funding, “the case then would be ripe for a court to consider this matter.”