The HHS Office for Civil Rights charged that the state of California discriminated against pregnancy resource centers by requiring they offer information about abortion.
California's Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act requires all pregnancy centers disclose information about abortion options. HHS said the 2015 law conflicts with federal "conscience" laws.
The violation is the first since the launch of the Office of Civil Rights Conscience and Religious Freedom Division last year.
HHS said the investigation began after complaints from the Sacramento Life Center, LivingWell Medical Clinic, Pregnancy Center of the North Coast and Confidence Pregnancy Center. They told HHS the California law opened them up to "potential fines and discrimination" if they didn't post notices mentioning abortion. The FACT Act includes a $500 fine for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
However, HHS said federal law prohibits state and local governments that receive federal funds to discriminate on the basis that the healthcare entity doesn't perform or refer for abortions.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court found in a 5-4 ruling that the FACT Act violated the pregnancy centers' First Amendment rights. Echoing those concerns, the OCR's Conscience and Religious Freedom Division found the California law violated state law and targeted the center with "burdensome and unnecessary notice requirements."
In a statement, Roger Severino, director of OCR, said the finding "underscores not only that California must follow the Constitution, but that it also must respect federal conscience protection laws when it accepts federal funds."
The decision comes amid a slew of news about reproductive rights. It's just days after an appeals court ruling that allows Texas Medicaid to pull public money from Planned Parenthood. It also followed the Senate defeating a bill to stop federal funding for abortions. The Senate bill fell well short of the 60-vote threshold.
This news additionally comes at the same time as the March for Life in Washington, D.C. The day before the march, HHS released a statement that the agency is "committed to protecting life and conscience."
HHS Secretary Alex Azar said "dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump's administration." Those efforts include HHS updating its five-year strategic plan last year that included a commitment to "protecting the life of all Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception."
.@HHSGov is committed to protecting our most fundamental freedoms: the right to life and the right of conscience in all of our work on healthcare, human services, public health, and biomedical science. https://t.co/rtWSr5P44s #MarchForLife pic.twitter.com/O01WdMPF4N— Secretary Alex Azar (@SecAzar) January 18, 2019
It's not only the Trump administration that is more supportive of anti-abortion causes now. The Supreme Court is more conservative with the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. As the debate rages on, those who are anti-abortion have both a White House and Supreme Court that are more supportive of their positions than any time over the past decade. However, Capitol Hill remains decidedly more supportive of abortion rights than the other two branches of government.