As the U.S. Congress reconvenes after the election, it must work to either complete appropriations work or pass another continuing resolution (CR) by the end of December 16. Congress previously passed a short-term CR in September to fund the government through December 16.
On July 20, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a six-bill minibus, which included Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development; Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration; Energy and Water Development; Financial Services and General Government; Interior, Environment; and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs. Though all bills have been passed out of committee, the House has not yet taken action on Commerce, Justice, and Science; Defense; Homeland Security; Labor, Health and Human Services, Education; Legislative Branch, or State, Foreign Operations.
The Senate has also released but not yet taken up its own version of these bills. If passed, these bills will have to be reconciled with the House versions.
Southern Baptists affirm the full dignity of every human being and that every life is worthy of protection, beginning with the unborn. We believe life begins at conception and that abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection. Scripture is clear that every person is made in the image of God and his knowledge of each of us even precedes the creative act of conception (Jer. 1:5; Psalm 139:13). At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the messengers passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation.”
The ERLC is committed to conscience protection policies because they uphold two of our most closely held convictions. First, we work to protect the consciences of our neighbors because we believe religious freedom is an inalienable human right, thankfully secured as the first freedom in the Bill of Rights. Second, protecting healthcare workers from the coercive power of the profit-seeking, on-demand abortion industry is a pro-life responsibility.
The ERLC opposes appropriations riders that deny religious freedom and conscience protections to millions of Americans. Efforts to codify sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal law have explicitly included attempts to roll back religious freedom and conscience protections. Many of the riders discussed below do the same. As the ERLC has long maintained, a government that is able to pave over the conscience is one that has the unlimited ability to steamroll dissent on any issue.
The FY2023 appropriations bills are troubling because they removes several longstanding pro-life riders from the budget. Just as last year, the Hyde Amendment has not been included in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill. The Hyde Amendment prevents Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. At the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, messengers unanimously approved a resolution condemning efforts to strip Hyde from any federal appropriations bills and called upon Congress to uphold all pro-life riders.
Additionally, the appropriations bills removed the Weldon Amendment for only the second time since 2005. The amendment protects the rights of conscience for healthcare professionals and institutions by preventing HHS from denying funding to recipients that refuse to provide, pay for or refer for abortion. The budget would also prohibit any president from reinstituting the Mexico City Policy, reestablished and expanded by President Donald Trump, as the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy.
Though excluded from the initially released bills last year, these pro-life and conscience protection riders were ultimately included in the final FY2022 appropriations package. It is our hope that the same will happen this year.
ERLC’s president, Brent Leatherwood, sent House and Senate leadership a letter urging them to defend protections against federal funds being used for abortion and to ensure that pro-life spending riders are approved in all spending legislation passed in the 117th Congress. He also urged Congress to remove harmful provisions that would exclude people of faith from serving the most vulnerable.
Each year, the ERLC is actively engaged in the appropriations process, working alongside committee and leadership offices to ensure that important pro-life, religious liberty, and conscience protections are included. The ERLC will continue to advocate for these pro-life provisions and other legislative measures that reflect God’s gracious love for every human life. You can read the full list of our concerns as well as our letter to Senate leadership below.