California's attorney general said Wednesday 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, M.D., (R-Fla.) inserted the provision into a $388 billion spending bill last month. 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 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 Attorney General Bill 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 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 Wednesday, as did the Planned Parenthood organization.
The state could lose its share of federal money earmarked for education, labor, health and human services programs.
A team of state lawyers is drafting the lawsuit, which Lockyer said will be filed within weeks if Bush signs the legislation as expected.
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, an exception missing from the Weldon amendment.