Thursday, December 9, 2004
Lockyer Says He Will Sue Over Abortion Rider to Spending Bill
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Attorney General Bill Lockyer said yesterday he will sue the federal government to block a congressional restriction that could stall federal funds if the state enforces its abortion rights laws.
Rep. David Weldon, R-Fla., inserted the provision into a $388 billion spending bill last month. President Bush signed the bill into law yesterday.
It would block any of the money from going to state, federal or local government agencies that punish health care providers and insurers because they don’t provide abortions, make abortion referrals or cover them.
Weldon, a doctor, said the measure will prevent health care providers who oppose abortion from being forced to assist in ending pregnancies. He and other supporters contend it is merely a variation on a decades-old prohibition on spending federal money on most abortions.
But Lockyer said California could be among the most affected because it has some of the most sweeping laws protecting women’s right to an abortion, along with a privacy guarantee written into the state Constitution. One state law, for instance, bars hospitals from refusing to perform abortions for women in emergency or life-threatening situations.
Lockyer called the provision “an unacceptable attack on women’s rights and state sovereignty, and a backdoor attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
California Sens. Barbara Boxer—who led a last-ditch effort to block the Weldon language from being approved in the upper house—and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats, and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, are among the measure’s outspoken opponents, saying it will prevent women from being told of all their options. All three endorsed Lockyer’s announcement yesterday, as did the Planned Parenthood organization.
The state could lose its share of federal money earmarked for education, labor, health and human services programs
Feinstein commented in a statement released by Lockyer’s office:
“This is a back-door attempt to chip away at our Constitutional right to privacy. It has a disproportionate impact on low-income women and women in rural areas. And it should be stricken from law. I hope that the Senate will invalidate this provision when it votes on it early next year. If the Senate does not overturn this provision, I believe that all legal remedies should be explored to ensure that the provision does not harm the state’s ability to provide women with adequate care.”
Boxer said the amendment “overrides the ability of states to protect the lives and the privacy of women,” while Pelosi said Congress was “[h]olding federal funds for health care and other critical services hostage because reproductive health services are offered.”
A team of state lawyers is drafting the lawsuit, which Lockyer said will be filed within weeks.
The suit will ask a federal judge to declare the provision invalid and prohibit its enforcement on the grounds that the financial penalties are so severe they unconstitutionally violate state sovereignty.
Lockyer acknowledged the courts have generally upheld Congress’ right to restrict how states use federal money.
but he plans to argue the Weldon amendment is more sweeping and coercive than restrictions previously allowed by the courts: it would block all the money to the entire state or local government that violates the provision, and the abortion rights question has nothing to do with education, labor and other funds that would be blocked.
Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court has long required an exemption in abortion restrictions for pregnancies that could harm the mother, Lockyer noted.
A leading California anti-abortion group, the Campaign for Children and Families, supported the Weldon amendment and condemned Lockyer’s announcement.
The group said in a statement:
“Imagine you’re a baby doctor. You’ve said the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, and now Bill Lockyer is forcing you to participate in killing an unborn child in a bloody abortion procedure. What ever happened to a person’s ‘right to choose’ to have a conscience?
“Instead of behaving like a lawyer for the wealthy abortion groups, Lockyer should immediately draft legislation to conform California to the new federal law. California doesn’t have to lose any federal funds. Abortions would still occur in California, but the state would cease and desist from forcing doctors and nurses to horribly kill unborn children against their own conscience.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company