ACLU Applauds California for Acting to Protect State Laws Aimed at Safeguarding Women's Health

December 8, 2004 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO – The American Civil Liberties Union today praised California Attorney General Bill Lockyer for vowing to take action against a federal provision, signed into law today by President Bush, that would take away the state’s ability to enforce its laws protecting women’s reproductive health and rights, including laws that ensure that women can obtain lifesaving emergency abortions.

“Over the past decade, California has adopted enlightened reproductive health policies,” said Margaret Crosby, an attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “This new federal law forces California to choose between enforcing the laws that we have enacted to safeguard women’s health and receiving vital federal funds to support our educational, health, and labor systems. This is a choice that no state should have to make.”

Congress tacked the provision in question onto an omnibus spending bill last month. The measure would allow virtually any health care entity to refuse to provide, cover, or even refer for abortions that are otherwise legally mandated. It severely sanctions states for enforcing their own laws that protect patients from suffering as a result of such refusals. The controversial provision is becoming law without a vote of either the full Senate or the full House.

“This measure will stand in the way of women throughout the country getting the health care they need,” said Julie Sternberg, an attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “The provision would permit health care entities to ignore public health laws put in place to protect women who need abortions even in cases of rape or incest or when their life is endangered. We applaud California for taking the lead in stopping this sweeping and dangerous measure, and we will do everything we can to support that effort.”

In California, the measure may, among other things, impede the state’s ability to ensure that communities continue to have access to abortion procedures or referrals when such services are threatened by hospital mergers; it may impede California’s law forbidding any hospital emergency department from refusing to perform abortions in emergency situations; and it may interfere as well with California laws that require abortion referrals in pregnancy-related health services.

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