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Latest Top (4) News

HHS Issues Notice of Violation to California for its Abortion Coverage Mandate

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR), announced an action to protect human life and the conscience rights of all Americans.

OCR is issuing a Notice of Violation to the state of California, formally notifying California that it cannot impose universal abortion coverage mandates on health insurance plans and issuers in violation of federal conscience laws.  California has deprived over 28,000 people of plans that did not cover elective abortion, but now must cover abortion due to California’s mandate.  

OCR’s investigation arose from two complaints alleging that California engaged in unlawful discrimination when California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) ordered, in August 2014, that all health plan issuers under its jurisdiction must offer coverage for elective abortion in every plan they offer.  The two complainants are the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, a Catholic order of religious sisters, and Skyline Wesleyan Church, a non-profit Christian church—organizations whose religious beliefs preclude them, in good conscience, from helping to pay for insurance coverage for elective abortions.

Pursuant to 45 CFR Part 88 (effective March 2011), OCR has completed the investigation of the complaints and determined that California violated the Weldon Amendment by mandating that California health care plan issuers cover elective abortion in each plan product, and continues to violate federal law by continuing to require objecting health care entities protected by the Weldon Amendment to cover elective abortion.  With this Notice, OCR requests that California inform OCR, within thirty days, whether California will continue to enforce its requirement that all health plans cover elective abortions, or whether it will agree to take corrective action and remedy the effect of its discriminatory conduct.

If, after 30 days, OCR does not receive sufficient assurance that California will come into compliance with federal law, OCR will forward the Notice of Violation and the evidence supporting OCR’s findings in this matter to the HHS funding components from which California receives funding for appropriate action under applicable grants and contracts regulations.  This action may ultimately result in limitations on continued receipt of certain HHS funds.

This is not the first time OCR has found California to be in violation of federal conscience statutes.  In January 2019, OCR found that California violated the Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments when it subjected pregnancy resource centers in the state to potential fines and discrimination for refusing to post notices referring for free or low-cost abortions.

“Once again, President Trump’s administration is delivering on his promise to protect human life and all Americans’ freedom of conscience,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Under President Trump, HHS has been vigorously enforcing the statutes Congress passed to protect Americans’ consciences and institutionalizing these protections within the department’s civil rights work.”

“No one in America should be forced to pay for or cover other people’s abortions,” said Roger Severino, Director of OCR. “We are putting California on notice that it must stop forcing people of good will to subsidize the taking of human life, not only because it’s the moral thing to do, but because it’s the law,” Severino concluded. 


A copy of the California Notice of Violation may be viewed here*.

See more about HHS’s pro-life and pro-conscience accomplishments here:

*People using assistive technology may not be able to fully access information in this file. For assistance, please contact digital@hhs.gov

Fri, 24 Jan 2020 21:15:00 -0500

Trump Administration Actions to Protect Life and Conscience

Title X Reforms

Title X Final Regulation: In February 2019, HHS finalized a new Title X regulation that ensures compliance with statutory program integrity provisions, including the statutory prohibition on funding programs where abortion is a method of family planning, and no longer permits Title X-funded family planning services at the same location where abortion is provided. HHS is vigorously defending the final rule against litigation.

Redirecting Relinquished Title X Funds: Rather than comply with the Title X final rule, certain former grantees relinquished their grants. The HHS Office of Population Affairs awarded the relinquished funds (more than $33.6 million) to 50 of the remaining grantees. These funds will be used to expand services in unserved or underserved areas.

Broadening Participation in Title X: In its August 2018 Title X grant awards, HHS reprioritized Title X funding to applicants who connect patients to a broader continuum of primary care, protect victims of sexual abuse, and encourage family involvement in family planning decisions, consistent with the statute and regulations. These awards funded 12 organizations that were not current Title X grantees, including state health departments, a faith-based organization, and several community health centers.

Protecting Conscience

Notice of Violation for California's Universal Abortion Mandate: In January 2020, OCR issued a Notice of Violation to the state of California, formally notifying California that it cannot impose universal abortion coverage mandates on health insurance plans and issuers in violation of federal conscience laws. California has deprived over 28,000 people of plans that did not cover elective abortion, but now must cover abortion due to California's mandate.

Protecting Healthcare Workers' Conscience Rights: In August 2019, OCR issued a notice of violation to the University of Vermont Medical Center, which violated the Church Amendments by forcing a nurse to assist in an elective abortion procedure over her conscience-based objections.

Finalized Conscience Regulation: In May 2019, HHS finalized a rule to protect individuals and health care entities from discrimination on the basis of their exercise of conscience in HHS-funded programs and strengthened enforcement procedures for 25 health-related federal conscience and religious freedom laws, so that such laws can be enforced as robustly as other civil rights laws enforced by OCR. HHS is defending the final rule against challenges to it. While the final rule is being litigated in court, OCR will continue to vigorously enforce the law under pre-existing authorities.

Enforcing Weldon & Coats-Snowe Amendments: In January 2019, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) notified the State of California that its law requiring pro-life pregnancy resource centers to refer clients for abortions, by posting notices about free or low-cost family planning services and abortion, violated the Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments. This is the first time that any state has been found in violation of these laws, reflecting HHS's heightened commitment to enforcing conscience protection statutes.

Protecting Conscience in Health Insurance: In November 2018, HHS and the Departments of Labor and of the Treasury issued two final rules to provide regulatory relief to American employers, including organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor, that have religious or moral objections to providing coverage for contraceptives, including those they view as abortifacient, in their health insurance plans. The Departments are vigorously defending the final rules, and the Supreme Court has granted the government’s petition for writ of certiorari to review a decision by the Third Circuit striking down the final rules.

New Division to Protect Conscience and Religious Freedom: In January 2018, OCR launched a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, the first time a federal office for civil rights has established a separate division dedicated to ensuring compliance with and enforcement of laws that protect conscience and free exercise of religion in healthcare and human services.

The Affordable Care Act and Abortion

Separate Billing for Abortion Coverage: In December 2019, HHS issued a final rule to require issuers of Qualified Health Plans—individual insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—to bill and send separate invoices for insurance coverage of non-Hyde abortions.

Ensuring Access to Policies without Abortion Coverage: In January 2019, HHS issued a proposed rule to require that insurance companies that offer ACA plans covering abortions of pregnancies that do not threaten the life of the mother or result from rape or incest must also offer at least one identical plan in the same geographic area that does not cover these abortions. (The rule would not apply in states with abortion coverage mandates.)

Transparency on Abortion Coverage on HealthCare.gov: Starting with the 2019 open enrollment period, HHS ensured for the first time that consumers could identify whether a plan covers non-Hyde abortion by clearly displaying such information on HealthCare.gov.

Hardship Exemption: In April 2018, CMS issued guidance to allow individuals to claim a hardship exemption from the individual mandate if all affordable plans offered through the federal exchanges in an individual’s area included abortion coverage, contrary to the individual’s beliefs.

Medicaid and Abortion

Approved Texas Medicaid Demonstration: In January 2020, CMS approved a Medicaid demonstration requested by the state of Texas that will allow the state to provide Medicaid-funded family planning services to otherwise uninsured women in accordance state law, which in part prohibits the use of funds to contract with entities that perform elective abortions.

Rescinded Guidance that Limited States’ Ability to Take Action Against Abortion Providers: In January 2018, CMS rescinded April 2016 guidance that curtailed states’ ability to set reasonable standards for determining which providers can participate in their Medicaid programs.

Protecting Life and Lives in Global Health Policy

"There is No International Right to Abortion": A total of twenty-four countries, representing more than one billion humans, signed joint statements in 2019 at the U.N. General Assembly, World Health Assembly, and/or Nairobi Summit coalescing on the principle that there is no international right to abortion. Secretary Azar delivered this message directly on the floor of U.S. General Assembly in September, 2019.

Joint Letter from Secretaries Azar and Pompeo: A joint secretarial letter from the heads of HHS and the Department of State was sent to their counterparts in approximately 70 nations, inviting them to join a coalition to oppose efforts to insert political language in international documents that assert an international right to abortion. Thirty-four nations attended a January 2020 meeting on this topic hosted by Secretary Azar at the Blair House.

Changing the U.S. Message: HHS continues to fight the concept of abortion as a fundamental human right, as evidenced by statements, votes called, amendments offered, and resolutions opposed at international forums. The Trump administration does not recognize abortion as a method of family planning and refuses to fund abortion in global health assistance.

Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance: HHS worked with the Department of State to implement President Trump’s restored and expanded Mexico City Policy, now known as “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” to ensure that, consistent with applicable law, global health assistance administered by HHS is not provided to foreign non-governmental organizations that provide or promote abortion as a method of family planning.

Protecting Life and Preventing Discrimination in HHS Grants and Research

Ensuring Equal Treatment for Faith-Based Organizations: In January 2020, HHS proposed regulations to ensure equal treatment of faith-based organizations by removing barriers to full and active engagement by the faith-based community in HHS social service programs and initiatives.

Protecting Religious Freedom in HHS Grants: In November 2019, HHS issued a proposed rule that would revise certain regulatory provisions adopted by the previous administration that concerned faith-based organizations, and foster care and potential adoptive families and children. At the same time, HHS issued a notice of nonenforcement of these and other regulatory provisions adopted by the previous administration because of serious concerns about the prior administration's compliance with the Regulatory Flexibility Act.

Addressing Funding of Research Involving Human Fetal Tissue from Elective Abortions: In June 2019, HHS announced the Administration’s policy with respect to the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortions in HHS-conducted or -funded research: Intramural NIH research involving human fetal tissue from elective abortions would be discontinued. New extramural grant applications, or current research grants in the competitive renewal process, will be reviewed by an ethics advisory board which would recommend whether, in light of ethical considerations, NIH should fund the research project.

Protecting Conscience in Foster Care and Adoption: In January 2019, HHS issued an exemption from certain regulatory requirements to help protect the right of various faith-based non-profits in South Carolina to retain their religious character while partnering with the state in providing foster care services.

Planning Actions

HHS Fall 2019 Regulatory Plan: In November 2019, HHS published its Fall 2019 Regulatory Plan which highlighted the regulatory actions it intends to take to protect conscience rights and life at all stages.

HHS Five-Year Strategic Plan: In February 2018, HHS updated its five-year Strategic Plan for 2018-2022, which highlights that a core component of HHS’s mission is the dedication to protecting the life of all Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception.

Fri, 24 Jan 2020 10:30:00 -0500

Secretary Azar Statement on March for Life

HHS Secretary Alex Azar released the following statement regarding the annual March for Life and the Trump Administration’s continued efforts to protect life and conscience:

“As thousands from across the country gather to march for life, I am proud to serve as part of the most pro-life administration in this country’s history, and I am immensely proud to join President Trump at the march as he becomes the first President to address this important gathering in person. President Trump believes that every life has inherent dignity and value, and it is an honor to lead a department that has demonstrated our full commitment to protecting the dignity of life from conception to natural death. HHS took numerous actions in 2019 to protect life by enforcing the laws on the books, like ensuring Title X dollars aren’t subsidizing the abortion industry. This past year, we took that fight to international organizations, where we stood up against the false claim that there is an international right to abortion. We’ve fought to protect the conscience rights of those who provide healthcare and participate in HHS-funded programs. Protecting conscience is our moral obligation as Americans and our legal obligation as faithful stewards of the law. We are proud to be ‘the Department of Life’ and will continue protecting life and lives while upholding the fundamental freedoms and inherent dignity of all Americans.”

See more about HHS’s pro-life and pro-conscience accomplishments here:

*People using assistive technology may not be able to fully access information in this file. For assistance, please contact digital@hhs.gov.

Thu, 23 Jan 2020 15:45:00 -0500

Surgeon General Releases First Report Focused on Smoking Cessation in 30 Years

Three decades after the first Surgeon General's report on smoking cessation, today, the Surgeon General is releasing a new report that reviews and updates evidence on the importance of quitting smoking. The report finds that more than two-thirds of U.S. adult cigarette smokers report interest in quitting cigarette smoking; and the majority of adult cigarette smokers in the United States have tried to quit during the past year.

In addition to discussing the immediate and long-term health and economic benefits of smoking cessation at the individual and societal levels, this report presents updated findings on nicotine addiction and genetic factors that may impact smoking behaviors. Finally, the report discusses the wide variety of clinical and population-based interventions that have been scientifically shown to effectively increase smoking cessation.

"We know more about the science of quitting than ever before. As a nation, we can and must do more to ensure that evidence-based cessation treatments are reaching the people that need them," said Surgeon General Vice Adm. Jerome M. Adams. "Today, I'm calling on healthcare professionals, health systems, employers, insurers, public health professionals, and policy makers to take action to put an end to the staggering—and completely preventable—human and financial tolls that smoking takes on our country."

"The steady decline in the number of Americans who smoke cigarettes is one of the great public health victories of recent decades, and this success has continued under President Trump," said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. "Americans who quit cigarettes can add as much as a decade to their life expectancy. Unfortunately, millions of Americans still smoke cigarettes. But the good news is that, as the Surgeon General's report shows, we know more than ever before about effective ways to help Americans quit. Working together, we can make tobacco-related disease and death a thing of the past."

Though cigarette smoking among American adults is at an all-time low (14%), it remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States. Approximately 34 million American adults currently smoke cigarettes.

Major Conclusions

This report expands on the findings from the 1990 report on the same topic, as well as past Surgeon General's reports on tobacco, reaching the following major conclusions:

  • Smoking cessation benefits persons at any age.
  • Smoking cessation reduces the risk of premature death and can add as much as a decade to life expectancy.
  • Smoking places a substantial financial burden on smokers, healthcare systems, and society. Smoking cessation reduces this burden.
  • More than 3 out of 5 U.S. adults who have ever smoked cigarettes have quit; however, less than one-third use FDA-approved cessation medications or behavioral counseling.
  • Disparities in key indicators of smoking cessation exist among subgroups within the U.S. population — including quit attempts, receiving advice to quit from a health professional, and using cessation therapies.
  • Smoking cessation reduces the risk of many negative health effects, including reproductive health outcomes, cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD), and numerous cancers.
  • Cessation medications approved by the FDA and behavioral counseling increase the likelihood of successfully quitting smoking, particularly when used in combination.
  • Insurance coverage for smoking cessation treatment that is comprehensive, barrier-free, and widely promoted increases the use of these treatment services, leads to higher rates of successful quitting, and is cost-effective.
  • E-cigarettes, a continually changing and diverse group of products, are used in a variety of ways. Therefore, it is difficult to make generalizations about efficacy for cessation based on clinical trials involving a particular e-cigarette. There is presently inadequate evidence to conclude that e-cigarettes, in general, increase smoking cessation.
  • Smoking cessation can be increased by raising the price of cigarettes, adopting comprehensive smoke-free policies, implementing mass media campaigns, requiring pictorial health warnings, and maintaining comprehensive statewide tobacco control programs.

This Surgeon General's report on smoking cessation, the 34th report on smoking and health since 1964, was compiled using a longstanding, peer-reviewed, and comprehensive process to safeguard the scientific rigor and practical relevance of Surgeon General's reports on tobacco. The evidence reviewed and summarized in this report can serve as a catalyst for efforts to further reduce the health and economic burden of tobacco product use in the United States.

For more information on the Surgeon General's Report, visit www.SurgeonGeneral.gov or www.cdc.gov/CessationSGR.

Thu, 23 Jan 2020 10:00:00 -0500