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SAN FRANCISCO � Lawyers for the state of California and the U.S. Department of Justice have been waiting more than a year for a decision on a case over abortion rights that could affect $37 billion in funds. At issue is the so-called Weldon Amendment, an addition to federal budgets each year since 2005. The amendment denies federal funds to states that try to force hospitals, doctors or clinics to perform abortions over their moral objections. California challenged the law because it could lose $37.3 billion in federal funds if it enforces its own conflicting state law that requires medical facilities to provide abortions in emergencies. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco heard arguments in January 2007 on California’s challenge to the Weldon Amendment, but so far the only word from White has been to inquire whether the Weldon Amendment remains in force. In fact, he has asked twice, over two budget cycles, whether the legislation remains in effect, and both times has been told that it does. But he has still not ruled. What’s the holdup? Lawyers on both sides say they don’t know what’s holding it up. Back in 2005, California sued the Bush administration over the antiabortion amendment in the federal budget. It would severely fine any state that tried to force doctors, health facilities or insurers to provide abortions in spite of their ethical objections. Known as the Weldon Amendment, after its sponsor Representative Dave Weldon, R-Fla., it was particularly important to groups such as the Catholic Health Care Alliance and the Christian Medical Association, which intervened in the 2005 lawsuit. White allowed both groups to enter the suit on the federal government’s side. California v. United States, No. C05-328JSW. California argued that the law would force the state to choose between enforcing its own state health care laws � requiring hospitals to perform an abortion in emergencies � and losing potentially $37.3 billion in federal funds. The case took a side trip to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals while the state challenged the Christian medical groups’ entry into the case, but lost in a June 2006 decision. In January 2007, White heard arguments on the state’s request to enjoin enforcement of the Weldon Amendment, but shortly before the argument he asked if it was still viable since the budget year was over. Both sides said the Weldon Amendment remained in effect. That was the last anyone heard about the case until last month. White issued a new request Jan. 24 asking again if the case was moot, or had Congress, once again, put the Weldon Amendment in the new budget. The amendment is indeed back in the current funding measure. White, for his part, told The National Law Journal, “The parties, having advised me the Weldon Amendment, which is in dispute, has now been reenacted by Congress, [the] matter [is] now ripe for decision.” James Sweeney, of Sweeney & Greene in Elk Grove, Calif., an attorney for the intervener Catholic Alliance, said he had “no idea” what was holding up a decision. “Obviously, it is an important religious liberty and freedom issue to us,” he said. “You never know, you can’t guess what goes on in the recesses of judicial chambers,” he said. California Deputy Attorney General Tim Muscat said he didn’t know why there has been no ruling. “The Weldon Amendment has been part of the budget each year. The judge has asked twice over the last two fiscal years and both sides said it continued to be renewed.” Justice Department attorney James Gilligan did not return a call seeking comment. California is the only state to challenge the law. White, a conservative and the only appointee of President George W. Bush on the Northern District of California bench, refused to dismiss the suit in 2005 after rejecting federal government arguments that the suit was premature so long as the government had not attempted to enforce it against states. So far, the law has not been used to deny funding to any state agency, though it remains the law of the land, according to Sweeney, the Catholic Alliance’s attorney. “As long as it remains in effect our interests are protected,” he said.

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