By / Feb 7

Today, President Biden will deliver his second State of the Union address. The State of the Union (SOTU) gives the president the opportunity to report to Congress and the American people on the current condition of the United States and provides a policy vision for the upcoming legislative year. 

Unlike last year, Biden is delivering this address to a divided Congress, with Democrats narrowly controlling the Senate and Republicans holding a slim majority in the House of Representatives. Despite these realities, this year presents Biden with his last significant window of opportunity for major legislative action before the 2024 election cycle begins early next year. Looming over this year’s State of the Union is persistently high inflation at home, an intensifying war abroad, and uncertainty about whether the president will seek reelection in 2024.

What do we expect President Biden to address?

Thus far, the contents of Biden’s address have been closely held, so new initiatives that the president would like to call for or major legislation he’d like to push may not be known until the speech begins. However, there are a number of issues that, even without reporting, seem likely to be included. 

Abortion

This will be the first State of the Union given in a post-Roe America. Since the Dobbs decision was released last summer, the Biden administration has taken a number of actions to expand abortion access across the country. In addition to congressional efforts to codify a right to abortion following the ruling, the administration has flexed its regulatory powers to push forward abortion and subvert pro-life state laws. Through the administrative state, Biden has mandated abortion access at VA facilities across the nation, made the abortion pill more readily available than ever before, and is reportedly weighing declaring a “public health emergency” to create new avenues for abortion access.

Ukraine

Undoubtedly, the ongoing war in Ukraine will be addressed. As we approach the one-year mark of Russia’s unjust, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Biden will likely highlight all that the United States has done to support the Ukrainian people and pledge our country’s continued support. The president may also tout the country’s swift response in welcoming roughly 100,000 Ukrainian evacuees and the work of U.S. aid organizations such as Send Relief in meeting the humanitarian needs caused by the war. 

As the war drags on and the economic costs are felt at home and in Europe, it will be important that Biden address why continued support for the Ukrainian cause matters on a humanitarian, economic, and national security level. 

Criminal justice reform

It was recently announced that the parents of Tyre Nichols will be in attendance at the State of the Union. Following the recent release of video footage showing five Memphis police officers using excessive force that eventually led to Nichols’ death, there have been renewed calls for policing and broader criminal justice reforms. It is probable that Biden will seize this momentum and urge Congress to take up action on this issue. 

The sincerity of these calls to action may be evaluated by what type of solutions the president highlights. Whether he chooses to point to partisan legislation such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, bipartisan legislation that Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) was involved in negotiating, or to criminal justice reforms outside of policing, such as the EQUAL Act, remains to be seen and will certainly be telling for the likelihood of any future action in this area.

Other issues President Biden should address

In his campaign for the presidency in 2020, Biden often referred to himself as a moderate, unity-seeking candidate. Despite some bipartisan legislative accomplishments on gun reform and infrastructure investments, the first two years of his presidency have been marked by high levels of partisanship and growing influence from the extreme-left wing of the Democratic party. Both a potential 2024 presidential run and the current realities of the U.S. Congress make it essential for Biden to stake out areas where true bipartisan consensus could be found and use the influence of his office to urge Congress to act in these areas. 

As mentioned in our recently released 2023 Public Policy Agenda, the following are areas with bipartisan support where we’d like to see both Congress and the president prioritize action.

Pro-Family Policy

In the wake of the Dobbs decision, there has been increased energy from lawmakers of both parties to do more to care for vulnerable women, children, and families. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)  joined that appeal this summer in anticipation of the decision, calling for pro-life and pro-family policies that “eradicate any perceived need for the horror of abortion.” 

Though the parties have deep disagreements on the issue of abortion, there should be common ground in addressing the key factors that drive women to seek abortions. We would like to see the president highlight policies that remedy marriage penalties, empower abortion-vulnerable women to choose life, and provide baseline levels of support for new parents.

China

One of the only moves to earn significant bipartisan support in these early days of this new Congress was the establishment of a committee in the House of Representatives to assess competition with China. As Biden reckons with China’s recent surveillance efforts, Secretary of State Blinken’s postponed visit to China, and his economic and climate goals, it is essential that human rights continue to be at the forefront of these conversations. 

In 2021, the SBC became the first protestant denomination ro rightly call what is happening to Uyghur Muslims a genocide, and since then, the ERLC has strongly advocated for the U.S. government to do more in countering China not just economically or militarily, but also morally.

Immigration reform

At the end of the last Congress, an unexpected, eleventh-hour framework emerged in the Senate, coupling much-needed border security improvements with a pathway to permanent status for Dreamers (young immigrants brought to the United States by their parents). Though this framework was not ultimately passed into law last year, the problems it sought to address have not gone away, and bipartisan groups of lawmakers have continued to negotiate possible solutions. Though immigration reforms in a divided Congress remain unlikely, these efforts would be bolstered by prioritization from the president. 

Biden certainly has a difficult task at hand to bring the country together amidst a myriad of ongoing challenges at home and abroad. Our hope is that he will pursue these policy areas where helpful compromises can be made and discord can be overcome, rather than pursuing divisive and extreme policies. Ultimately though, Christians do not put their faith in any one leader but trust God’s sovereign plan and pray that he gives each president wisdom in leading our nation.

By / Jan 20

In a few days, President Joe Biden will speak before a joint session of Congress and deliver his second State of the Union address. In the message, the president will fulfill his constitutional duty to “give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” 

While President Biden might mention abortion in his speech, he is unlikely to discuss the varied ways the issue has changed since the overturning of Roe v. Wade and in the past few months. Here is what you should know about the state of abortion in 2023.

Most abortions are illegal in 14 U.S. states

Earlier this month, the Supreme Courts in Idaho and South Carolina issued rulings on pending cases concerning abortion. In Idaho, abortion is now allowed only to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest. Sadly, in South Carolina the state Supreme Court ruled a 2021 Heartbeat Bill to be unconstitutional, granting the right of an abortion up to 22 weeks.

Abortion is currently banned in 13 states. In Georgia, where a complete ban was blocked by the courts, it is allowed only in the first six weeks. Eleven more states have restrictions between 15 and 22 weeks of gestation. Abortion is legal beyond 22 weeks’ gestation in 25 states and Washington, D.C. 

FDA allows retail pharmacies to offer abortion pill

In the final days of 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated a rule allowing retail pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens to dispense the abortion pill mifepristone. The change in expanding access to the drug came amid a wave of state efforts last year to impose restrictions. Until 2021, mifepristone could only be dispensed in person by a physician. The Biden administration relaxed that requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed the drug to be dispensed by telemedicine prescription and mail delivery. That rule was later made permanent. 

The new rule requires pharmacies to apply for a special certification process. The rule also will only apply in states that have not banned abortion. More than a dozen states have laws that would prohibit the abortion pill from being prescribed. However, women will be able to cross state lines and obtain mifepristone from states in which abortion is allowed within the first 10 weeks. 

Medication abortions—abortions that are a result of abortion pills rather than surgery—currently account for more than half of all abortions in the United States, so the ease of access is likely to increase the total number of abortions.  

Justice Department clears Postal Service to deliver abortion pills in states where abortion is banned

A day before Christmas Eve, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a legal opinion concluding that the mailing of abortion pills does not violate Section 1461 of title 18 of the U.S. Code, commonly known as the Comstock Act. According to the Justice Department, that law does not prohibit the mailing of certain drugs that can be used to perform abortions where the sender lacks the intent that the recipient of the drugs will use them unlawfully.

“Because there are manifold ways in which recipients in every state may lawfully use such drugs, including to produce an abortion,” states the ruling, “the mere mailing of such drugs to a particular jurisdiction is an insufficient basis for concluding that the sender intends them to be used unlawfully.”

The decision allows abortion pills to be shipped through the U.S. Postal Service as well as by other carriers, like FedEx and the United Parcel Service. But it does not guarantee legal immunity for those involved in sending or receiving abortion drugs in states that restrict them. The opinion also does not prevent state or local prosecutors from using state laws to charge people criminally for violating abortion bans or restrictions.

Congressional Democrats still refuse to protect children born alive after abortion

On Jan. 11, all but two Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against legislation that would require immediate medical attention for babies who are born alive after an attempt was made to abort them. In contrast, 210 Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, voted to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (one other Democrat, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, voted “present”). 

The legislation says that any infant born alive after an attempted abortion is a “legal person for all purposes under the laws of the United States.” Doctors would be required to admit such infants to a hospital for further care. Any violation of this standard could result in fines and imprisonment for up to five years. 

Despite passing by a majority vote in the House, the Democrat-controlled Senate is unlikely to bring the legislation for a vote.

By / Jul 12

Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on a pair of bills titled the “Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022” and the “Ensuring Access to Abortion Act of 2022.” This vote is expected to be largely along party lines, with every Republican and likely only one Democrat, Rep. Cuellar (D-TX), voting against the harmful bills. Together, these pieces of legislation are some of the most pro-abortion bills ever considered by Congress.

Speaker Pelosi brought these bills to the House floor in response to the recent landmark Supreme Court decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned disastrous abortion precedents and returned the issue to the states.

What is the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022?

The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 removes all restrictions and limits on abortion and allows for abortion up to the point of birth. Additionally, this bill removes all pro-life protections at the federal and state levels and eliminates a state’s ability to legislate on abortion. This bill also fails to protect the conscience of American taxpayers and would force taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions. Longstanding pro-life protections such as the Hyde Amendment and the Weldon Amendment would be permanently removed.

Despite the bill’s name, vulnerable women and families will only be put at greater risk if the Women’s Health Protection Act were to ever become law. The reality is, abortion is not healthcare. Because dignity is bestowed upon each person when created in the womb, then abortion is not only an assault on those made in the image of God but also causes irreparable harm to a vulnerable life. We believe abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection, and therefore cannot be considered as healthcare.

The role of government should be to protect these vulnerable, preborn babies, not to exploit them by removing restrictions on abortion that put their lives in grave danger.

This bill is extraordinarily pro-abortion and ought to shock and grieve our consciences.

What is the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act of 2022?

The Ensuring Access to Abortion Act of 2022 requires states to allow the purchase and mailing of abortion pills from across state lines. The bill weaponizes interstate commerce protections to prevent states from restricting access to FDA-approved abortion pills bought in other states. This bill would defy existing restrictions in at least 19 states and expand access to abortion pills nationwide.

Not only would the bill curb state authority to restrict access to the abortion pill, but it would also prevent states from restricting or impeding interstate travel for the purpose of obtaining an abortion. Some lawmakers and advocacy groups have proposed laws that would prevent people from traveling out of state to obtain abortions or open out-of-state providers to civil liabilities. This bill would ban such efforts nationwide.

The Ensuring Access to Abortion Act of 2022 would enshrine interstate access to the dangerous abortion pill in federal law and would promote abortion tourism nationwide. The bill is extremely pro-abortion and should be opposed by pro-life advocates.

How is the ERLC involved?

The ERLC is strongly opposed to these bills and any effort to support the abortion industry, including the legalization of abortion. We urge the House to vote down these destructive pieces of legislation and would ask the Senate to note give any consideration to these bills. Their passage would endanger thousands of vulnerable preborn lives, handcuff state legislatures from enacting pro-life protections, and steamroll over the the consciences of millions of Americans who do not wish to pay for or be compelled to provide abortions.

The ERLC will always advocate for life before Congress, the courts, and in the public square, and we are working toward a day when abortion is illegal and lives are saved, mothers are no longer told the lie that it is necessary by a predatory abortion industry, and our culture views this grievous practice as completely unthinkable. We desire to see a culture of life created where mothers are supported, resources are provided that promote the flourishing of families, and where every life is honored and valued. 

By / May 14

Editor's Note: ERLC and Focus on the Family are hosting the first ever Evangelicals for Life event next year in Washington DC on January 21-22nd, featuring Russell Moore, Roland Warren, David Platt, Eric Metaxes, Kelly Rosati, Ron Sider and others. 

WASHINGTON (BP)—The U.S. House of Representatives approved a ban on late abortions Wednesday (May 13) in a vote that was postponed nearly four months to the dismay of pro-life Americans.

The House voted 242-184 for the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which will prohibit abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation. The House leadership canceled a Jan. 22 roll call on the proposal after about two dozen Republicans, led by female members, expressed concerns about the legislation.

In the end, House leaders traded one abortion-related anniversary for another in holding the vote after appeals from pro-life organizations. They originally set the vote for the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court opinion that legalized abortion throughout the country. Instead, they held the vote on the second anniversary of the conviction of Kermit Gosnell, the notorious Philadelphia abortionist who killed hundreds of late-term babies inside and outside the womb.

Pro-life leaders hailed House passage of the proposal.

Russell Moore, the Southern Baptist Convention’s lead ethicist, thanked the House “for voting to end the abhorrent practice of late term abortion.”

“No nation can seriously call itself humane while 20 week-old unborn children are unprotected from the abortion industry,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in a written statement. “We have much further to go as a government and as a culture in protecting the dignity of all human life, but this is a step in the right direction."

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said the bill “would save thousands of unborn babies annually from terribly painful deaths.”

Abortion rights advocates, meanwhile, criticized the measure.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called it a “misguided, dangerous bill” that is “part of a much bigger agenda to ban abortion completely.”

Nearly all of the House’s Democrats aligned with Planned Parenthood and its allies in opposing a bill that would protect often viable unborn children. Only four Democrats voted for the proposal, while 180 members of the party voted against it. On the GOP side, 238 members supported the bill, while four opposed it.

The House vote came only a week after The New York Times reported a new study showed prematurely born babies are surviving outside the womb earlier than previously thought possible. The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found a small minority of babies born at 22 weeks gestation survived with few medical problems, though the point of viability has been considered to be 24 weeks, The Times reported May 6.                                              

Revisions in the legislation, H.R. 36, in the last four months actually made the latest version stronger, some of the bill’s proponents said.

The newly approved measure includes the following changes from the earlier version regarding exceptions to the ban:

  • A specially trained physician must be present to ensure the same treatment for a child who survives the abortion procedure as a prematurely born baby would receive.
  • An adult victim of rape must receive counseling or medical treatment at least 48 hours prior to an abortion, and a pregnancy to a minor that results from rape or incest must be reported to a social services or law enforcement agency. 
  • A woman considering abortion must sign an informed consent form that includes an estimate by the doctor of the age of the unborn child and a description of the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

On the eve of the vote, Moore and eight other pro-life leaders urged the House to approve the ban. Describing it as a “modest pro-life bill,” they said in a joint statement, “The United States is one of only seven nations to allow abortion on-demand after this point, putting us in the company of human-rights violators such as China and North Korea.”

Among the other endorsers of the statement were leaders of the Susan B. Anthony List, Family Research Council, March for Life and Concerned Women for America. A coalition with a similar makeup, including Moore, also had issued a statement April 22 calling for House leaders to schedule a vote after no action had been taken for three months.

The small group of Republican House members who sought delay of the Jan. 22 vote focused their concerns on the original bill’s rape exemption, which required report of an assault on women of all ages to law-enforcement authorities.

One of the apprehensions expressed by the Republican dissenters in January regarded how the bill would be perceived by women and young adults. Women and young people, however, supported the ban with the law-enforcement reporting requirement, according to a November poll by Quinnipiac University. That survey showed 60 percent of Americans, 59 percent of women and 57 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 favored the legislation.

The Democrats who broke with their party and voted for the bill were Reps. Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jim Langevin of Rhode Island, Daniel Lipinski of Illinois and Collin Peterson of Minnesota. The Republicans who opposed the legislation were Reps. Charles Dent of Pennsylvania, Bob Dold of Illinois, Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Richard Hanna of New York. Rep. Jody Hice, R.-Ga., was the lone member to vote “present.”

On May 13, 2013, a jury found Gosnell guilty of the first-degree murder of three babies who were alive outside the womb at his West Philadelphia abortion clinic. They were only some of hundreds of babies at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery, typically by jabbing scissors into the back of their necks and cutting their spinal cords. Gosnell also was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a woman who received an abortion in his clinic and of 21 counts of violating a state ban on abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy.