California's Challenge to Federal Abortion Law Will Proceed, Rules Judge

California’s lawsuit against a federal law that protects health care providers who refuse to perform abortions will proceed, ruled a federal judge on Monday.

President Bush signed a federal law in December 2004 that would withhold federal funding from states that force doctors opposed to abortions to act against their consciences.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and state school Superintendent Jack O’Connell filed a federal lawsuit in January 2005, charging the federal law with violation of a woman’s right to abortion under Roe v. Wade.

The federal law also does not include an exception allowing abortions when a mother’s life or health is in danger. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion laws must include a provision for instances when a mother’s health is at risk. The high court will take up a case in the fall term that will determine the legal standards for the constitutionality of abortion laws.

The lawsuit also claims that compliance with the federal law would force California to violate two of its state laws. California recognizes the rights of conscience for doctors and other health care providers who refuse to perform abortions due to religious or moral objections. However, the state has a provision that requires abortions when the mother’s life or health is in danger.

California law also states that all health care facilities must perform emergency services, which includes abortions. If the facility cannot perform the service, then they must help the patient find another facility that can provide the care that they need.

Under the federal law, the state would no longer be able to enforce these two laws. The state may lose as much as $49 billion in federal funding if it does not comply with the federal law.

Following the suit, the Bush administration argued that the law has not yet been enforced, and therefore cannot yet be challenged. However, on Monday, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that the state has the right to continue their lawsuit against the federal government.

White wrote that California has “sufficiently alleged an injury to [its] sovereign interest in the continued enforceability of its own statues.”