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 / Dec 22

On Dec. 22, 2022,, the Senate passed the fiscal year 2023 omnibus appropriations bill. The bill received significant bipartisan support in the Senate and is expected to be quickly passed with slim bipartisan support in the House of Representatives before being sent to President Biden’s desk to become law. The bill averts a government shutdown and will fund the federal government through the end September 2023. 

The massive, nearly $1.7 trillion bill was over 4,000 pages long and has significant implications for issues of life, religious liberty, and human dignity. The ERLC communicated our concerns with previously released versions of the appropriations bills to Congress and was pleased to see many of these concerns resolved in the final package. In addition to providing our analysis on these proposals, the ERLC has also advocated for multiple immigration reforms, including the incorporation of legislation that would provide permanent protections for Afghans evacuated to the United States last year, a solution for Ukrainian refugees, and a permanent pathway for Dreamers, all of which should be matched with enhanced measures for our nation’s border security. We also advocated for legislation that would end a disparity in drug sentencing and would be a helpful reform to our nation’s criminal justice system.

What was included in the bill?

Though originally excluded from the proposed bills, the final spending package included the “Hyde-family” of riders. This includes:

Though the inclusion of these riders after their initial exclusion was a significant victory for life and conscience protection, the omnibus bill also included significant funding for domestic family planning programs and similar international funds like the United Nations Population Fund which funnel money into pro-abortion organizations. Though these riders keep money from funding the actual abortion procedure, these organizations can use government funding to cover all other operational costs. While we would like to see no funding go toward the predatory abortion industry, it is noteworthy that the final funding levels were significantly lower than originally proposed earlier this year.

Also included as amendments were two proposals known as the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the PUMP Act. Together, these bills provide substantial protections for pregnant and nursing mothers in the workplace. Though encouraged by the direction taken by the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act proposal, we believe it needed to be improved through amendments, such as the one proposed by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), to create robust religious liberty protections, as well as ensure it excludes abortion as an available option for employees. Of note, an amendment offered by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) was adopted and included some helpful religious liberty safeguards. Ultimately, these proposals signal policymakers are proactively thinking through how to support mothers and families in the post-Roe moment. We believe this is best done in ways that protect preborn lives and bolster family formation, and policy development in this area will be a focus for the ERLC in coming legislative sessions.

Beyond these policies, there was a strong push for many more to be included in the omnibus package. It is worth noting that the Electoral Count Act was included. This bipartisan bill is largely a response to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol and seeks to revise and clarify the process of “casting and counting electoral votes for presidential elections” with specific attention given to the role of the vice president in certifying election results.

Harmful policies that were stopped 

We also want to draw attention to a number of harmful components from the originally proposed appropriations bills that, after significant advocacy work, were ultimately removed from the final package. Destructive policies were removed regarding funding for abortion tourism and requirements around leave for federal employees to obtain an abortion. Additionally, harmful language that would have prevented organizations who operate consistent with deeply held religious convictions—including adoption and foster care agencies—from receiving funding from HHS if they did not violate their consciences to provide services to same-sex couples was excluded from the final bill. 

Another piece from the original versions of the appropriations bills that was excluded was the expansion of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) mission. As we argued in a letter sent this fall, “USCIRF is the only agency dedicated exclusively to the monitoring of and advocating for religious freedom. It has been this narrow scope that has allowed the Commission to be highly effective since its inception, even with a relatively small budget.” If USCIRF’s mandate had been unwisely widened in scope to include monitoring and working against laws and policies of foreign governments that “permit or condone discrimination against, or violations of human rights of, minority groups and other vulnerable communities on the basis of religion” as originally proposed, it would have significantly hindered the important work for people of all faiths of this vital institution. We consider these moves to be important policy wins for our convention of churches.

What else was excluded from the final package?

As we briefly mentioned above, two issues we had hoped to see Congress address through the omnibus bill were immigration and criminal justice reforms. Though we had advocated for the inclusion of both needed border security improvements as well as a permanent solution for “Dreamers,” negotiators ran out of time for a compromise to be included. 

We also advocated for a secure pathway to legal status for Afghan and Ukrainian evacuees who were brought to the United States using “humanitarian parole.” Though these vulnerable individuals are essentially refugees, they lack the pathway to permanent status given to those formally designated as refugees. Unfortunately, despite broad bipartisan support for the Afghan Adjustment Act, it was ultimately excluded from the final bill. 

From a human dignity perspective, we also had hoped to see the inclusion of the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act in the final package. This bill, which passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 361-66 and has 11 Republican co-sponsors in the Senate, would eliminate a sentencing disparity that is especially harmful for Black Americans. This effort is a logical next step following the historic signing of the First Step Act under President Donald Trump. Southern Baptists have long believed drug abuse “erodes the physical, moral, and spiritual well being” of our neighbors and our nation. At the same time, we have consistently advocated for efforts that will bring about helpful reforms to our justice system, especially those that will reduce high incarceration rates. This proposal aligns with that call and, regrettably, was not included in the final version of the bill.

Each year the appropriations process presents an important opportunity for the ERLC to raise the concerns of Southern Baptists on issues of life, religious liberty, and human dignity. As this appropriations cycle ends only a short time before the next one begins, we will be ready to once again advocate on these important matters.

By / Dec 2

In this episode, Lindsay talks with Hannah Daniel about the Senate’s affirmative vote on the Respect for Marriage Act, the upcoming oral arguments for 303 Creative, and her trip to the border next week. They also discuss pro-life issues and the life-saving work of ultrasound machines. 

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  • Dobbs Resource Page Prayer Guide | Right now, the Supreme Court is considering a major Mississippi abortion case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ERLC and other pro-life organizations filed an amicus brief in this case urging the Supreme Court to overturn the disatrous Roe v. Wade decision. Members of our team also joined pro-life advocates on the steps of the Supreme Court when oral arguments were heard last December. As we approach the Supreme Court’s final decision in June of this year, it’s important for Christians to pray for this landmark case and begin preparing our churches to serve vulnerable women and children in a potential post-Roe world. Download our free prayer guide at ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Dobbs Resource Page | Many Christians are aware that an important case about abortion is being decided at the Supreme Court this June. But for many, this case is confusing and wrapped in a lot of legal jargon. The ERLC wants to help with that, so we’ve created a resource page that will help you and your church understand what this case means, what could happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and how your church can prepare to serve vulnerable women and children in the aftermath. To learn more about the Dobbs case and how you can pray, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.
By / Nov 18

In this episode, Lindsay and Brent talk about Brent’s trip to Washington, D.C., and his productive meetings with lawmakers. They also discuss the Senate’s vote to move forward with the Respect for Marriage Act, the Republicans’ narrow victory to win the House, and Nancy Pelosi’s future. 

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  • Dobbs Resource Page | The release of the Dobbs decision marks a true turning point in the pro-life movement, a moment that Christians, advocates and many others have worked toward tirelessly for 50 years. Let us rejoice that we live in a nation where past injustices can still be corrected, as we also roll our sleeves up to save preborn lives, serve vulnerable mothers, and support families in our communities. To get more resources on this case, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Sexual Ethics Resource Page | Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of entertainment and messages that challenge the Bible’s teachings on sexual ethics? It often feels like we’re walking through uncharted territory. But no matter what we face in our ever-shifting culture, God’s design for human sexuality has never changed. The ERLC’s new sexual ethics resource page is full of helpful articles, videos, and explainers that will equip you to navigate these important issues with truth and grace. Get these free resources at ERLC.com/sexualethics.
By / Aug 6

This weekend, the Senate is delaying their long-awaited August recess to consider a major funding package. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 is a smaller version of President Biden’s failed Build Back Better package that included over $2.4 trillion in new spending. The IRA introduces $485 billion in new spending on energy subsidies, stricter tax enforcement, and healthcare provisions, and the bill promises to reduce deficits by $305 billion through 2031. Senators will spend their weekend debating and amending this large omnibus package using a complex legislative tool known as “reconciliation.” As Christians seek to be well informed on the workings of our government, play an active role in our democracy, and ensure the well-being of our neighbors, it is important to more fully understand this complicated procedure.

What is the reconciliation process?

Normal legislative debate is guided by long-standing filibuster rules. The filibuster requires 60 votes to invoke cloture, a key vote that ends otherwise endless debate and blocks the offering of unrelated amendments. But legislation considered under the reconciliation process is not subject to filibuster rules. Instead, the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 automatically limits Senate debate to 20 hours, blocks germane amendments, and only requires a simple majority vote to advance a reconciliation package from the chamber. These adjusted rules empower a simple majority of senators to bypass legislative gridlock and fast-track legislation to the president’s desk.

Since the process’ inception, many landmark reconciliation packages have had major implications for federal spending and tax policy. Over almost 50 years, Congress and the president have enacted 22 reconciliation packages, including deficit reduction bills in the 1980s and 1990s, the Clinton welfare reform package in 1996, the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, the Obama Affordable Care Act amendments in 2010, the Trump tax cuts in 2017, and the American Rescue Plan supported by President Biden in 2021.

What is the Byrd Rule?

While the reconciliation process can be a useful tool to pass heavily partisan legislation, Senate rules strictly limit the scope and content of any reconciliation bills. A reconciliation directive known as the Byrd Rule instructs Congress to only consider budgetary provisions that modify federal spending, revenues, or the public debt limit. Typically, reconciliation only affects mandatory spending programs that do not require annual authorization: Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, and federal civilian and military retirement. The Byrd Rule also specifically prohibits Congress from modifying Social Security programs.

Under the Byrd Rule’s complicated review process, often called a “Byrd bath,” any senator can raise a point of order to block “extraneous” provisions that fall outside the aforementioned budgetary categories. The non-partisan Senate parliamentarian interprets whether the provision is indeed incidental to the process’ budgetary purposes and can delete such extraneous provisions, called “Byrd droppings,” from the package.

For example, during Byrd bath review of the American Rescue Plan of 2021, an expansive COVID-19 relief package, the Senate parliamentarian struck down a proposed amendment to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, much to the consternation of Senate Democrats.

What is a “vote-a-rama”?

While the special reconciliation procedures limit the amount of debate, the rules do not restrict the number of amendments that can be offered on the Senate floor. Once the 20-hour debate limit has ended, any remaining amendments are considered with little to no debate—a process known as a “vote-a-rama.” 

Each party is allotted about 30 seconds to comment on the proposed amendment, then the entire body immediately votes on the amendment. Depending on the amount of amendments offered, a vote-a-rama can last for hours, even overnight. The IRA vote-a-rama is expected to begin Saturday evening and end sometime Sunday afternoon.

The minority party typically leverages this amendment process to force majority-party senators to stake out politically unpopular positions. Given that, viewers should expect Republicans to propose hundreds of amendments on climate policy, inflation, and immigration.

How is the ERLC involved?

The ERLC will be carefully tracking the proposed amendments to the reconciliation bill and are committed to ensuring that pro-life and religious liberty protections are maintained. We had deep concerns about the Build Back Better package that was negotiated at the end of last year. We will always defend life and conscience protections, and are grateful for the members of Congress that will offer amendments protecting the pre-born and American consciences.  

By / May 10

This week, the U.S. Senate will vote on a bill titled the “Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022.” This vote is expected to fail, with all Republican senators as well as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) signaling that they will vote against the bill. This piece of legislation passed the House in September and is one of the most pro-abortion bills to have ever done so. Sens. Collins, a pro-choice Republican, has vowed to oppose this legislation because, “It supersedes all other federal and state laws, including the conscience protections that are in the Affordable Care Act,” and, “it doesn’t protect the right of a Catholic hospital to not perform abortions.”

Though an earlier version of this bill already failed in the Senate this year, Majority Leader Schumer is once again bringing this legislation up for a vote in response to last week’s leaked Supreme Court draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Though it is unclear whether the current majority in the draft opinion will hold and represent the final opinion, it seems that the court could be prepared to overturn the disastrous precedents set in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey and return the issue of abortion to the states

Though a final decision in the case is not expected until late June, it could be released at any time. In the meantime, Democratic legislators and President Biden are working to legislatively codify access to abortion at a federal level; however, it remains very unlikely that any of these legislative efforts will be successful due to the legislative filibuster and Sen. Manchin’s pro-life position.

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 removed.

Despite the bill’s name, vulnerable women and families will only be put more at risk if the Women’s Health Protection Act were to ever become law. Additionally, abortion is not healthcare. If human dignity is given to 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 on 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.

How is the ERLC involved?

The ERLC is strongly opposed to this bill and any effort to legalize abortion. We urge the Senate not to pass this destructive piece of legislation. It would put thousands of vulnerable, preborn lives at risk 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’re are working toward a day when abortion is not only illegal but also unnecessary and unthinkable. We desire to see a culture where mothers are supported and provided with needed resources and where life is honored and valued. 

By / May 14

Last night, the Senate voted 52-47 to repeal the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC) 2017 ‘True Lender’ rule. Republican Sens. Lummis (WY), Collins (ME), and Rubio (FL) voted to pass this bipartisan Congressional Review Act (CRA) aimed at the OCC’s misguided rule. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. 

The background 

The 2017 OCC rule allowed payday lenders to partner with out of state banks, thus evading state interest rate caps in their own state. This partnership is known as a “rent-a-bank” scheme allowing banks to “rent” their name to lenders in an outside state in order to avoid consumer protection laws. The rule states that these partner banks operated as the ‘true lender’ and originator of the loan, so though the consumer and the payday lender are in one state, their state laws did not apply to the loan. 

The ERLC has long applauded states’ efforts to curtail unjust lending practices in their states. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have 36% interest rate caps. We believe that these common sense consumer protection laws should be honored, and not undermined by deceptive regulatory definitions. Predatory lenders should not be granted a loophole from state laws that promote responsible and honest lending practices. 

The average annual interest rate on payday loans in states without an interest rate cap is 391%. This unfair and exorbitant interest rate traps families in cycles of poverty and debt, leading many to rollover their payday loans eight or nine times. 

Calling for an end to payday lending

Scripture speaks clearly against usurious lending practices. A just nation protects consumers from exploitive business relationships and regulates lenders to ensure just treatment. As the Southern Baptist Convention affirmed in 2014, “predatory lending fails to respect the dignity of the person created in the image of God and interferes with human flourishing.”

These values prompted the ERLC to join the Faith for Just Lending Coalition (FJL) and advocate for an end to the payday debt trap. FJL has been working since the 2017 OCC rule was first proposed to oppose its implementation and released a statement yesterday applauding the Senate for its vote to repeal the harmful rule. 

Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH), conducted a hearing on the CRA and cited FJL and ERLC’s advocacy on this issue: “a broad, bipartisan coalition is asking Congress to overturn the OCC’s harmful True Lender Rule. That support includes […] the Southern Baptist Convention […] and other members of the Faith in Just Lending Coalition.”

Every sector of public life has a role to play in ending payday lending. This includes individuals who should steward their money well, churches who should help financially struggling families and individuals, and governing authorities who should regulate consumer loan interest rates. 

The ERLC is grateful to the Senate for passing such an important bill to curb the proliferation of payday lenders across the country. Predatory lending is out of sync with God’s design for financial relationships, and we celebrate one small step in ending the payday debt trap. 

The ERLC will continue to advocate for the repeal of the 2017 OCC ‘True Lender’ rule as the CRA moves to the House of Representatives, and President Biden’s desk for signature.

By / Mar 17

Today, March 17, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on H.R. 5, the Equality Act and the ERLC submitted written testimony for the hearing’s official public record.

This legislation seeks to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) by revising every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code. The ERLC has often referred to the Equality Act as misleadingly named because it seeks to achieve its aims by undermining fundamental freedoms of conscience and religious liberty and the biological distinctions of sex. H.R. 5 is out of step with the basic American ideal of tolerance — where neighbors can respect one another and work together toward the common good, even when they disagree. 

Since it was first introduced in the last Congress, the ERLC has actively engaged with lawmakers on the harms this bill would create. We will continue promoting and defending the dignity and religious liberty of all people on Capitol Hill, before the courts, and in the public square. 

Today’s Senate hearing was an important marker in the public debate. Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) hosted a number of witnesses, including the following two that are highlighted in this piece: Mary Rice Hasson, the Kate O’Beirne Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Abigail Shrier, an independent journalist and author. The following are key quotes from the Congressional members and these two witnesses.

For more on this bill and its troubling implications, see this explainer as well as this helpful resource page with articles, podcast episodes, and our policy brief. 

Sen. James Lankford (R–Okla.): No person should be discriminated against in America.

Mary Rice Hasson: Unjust discrimination is always wrong.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa): What will happen to Catholic or Methodist affiliated hospitals which provide excellent service to the public if this bill is enacted? In some areas these facilities may be the only hospitals for miles around. If a faith-based organization has partnered with a community to provide very needed social services that would otherwise not exist, like a soup kitchen, or an adoption agency for the hard to adopt special-need kids, what happens to the people who relied most heavily on those services? To whom do they turn?

Sen. James Lankford (R–OK): For those of us that believe a baby is not just a medical condition, for the people that believe children of any age, or size, or degree of development are worthy of life, we’re not bigots. We’re people who live by our genuine faith and see a child as a child. I believe that we can respect each other, we can have real dialogue over these issues that are complicated and difficult, and we can find a way to be able to pass something that honors every American but doesn’t discriminate against people of faith.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R–Tenn.): Women’s safety is fundamental to the fight for women’s rights. . . . Women should never have to fear for their safety because they’re forced to share spaces with men.

Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO-04): [H.R. 5] threatens to halt federal assistance for students at single sex colleges and universities … and the same applies to sororities and fraternities.

Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO-04): [H.R. 5] … endangers women’s safety in locker rooms, bathrooms, dorm rooms, and homeless shelters.

Abigail Shrier: The great American, Allison Felix, ran the 400 meter in 49.26 seconds. In 2018, nearly 300 high school boys could beat her. So [if H.R. 5 had been law] America would never know the name Allison Felix.

Abigail Shrier: No one who wrote [H.R. 5] appears to consider what it would mean for women and girls. By enshrining gender identity as a protected category, this bill would make it impossible ever to legally distinguish between a woman and a biological male who claims a female identity—for whatever amount of time and for whatever reason or purpose.

Abigail Shrier: Should a female abuse survivor at a domestic violence shelter be forced to sleep and undress next to a biological male? The plain truth is that it is not sensible, not safe and certainly not just to end these hard-won protections for women and girls in the name of equality.

Mary Rice Hasson: Biological sex matters in law, medicine, and for many of us, in the pracitce of our faith.

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] threatens serious harm to religious believers and organizations. It strips away crucial protections provided by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and attacks First Amendment rights as well—tipping the scales against religious believers. 

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] seeks to coerce religious believers to exit the public square unless they’re willing to trade their religious beliefs for today’s reigning ideology.

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] also reaches far beyond Bostock, which pertained to the workplace, by expanding public accommodations to mean wherever Americans gather—even virtually. Churches, synagogues, temples, faith-based schools, soup kitchens, women’s shelters, will be subject to government coercion. Compromise your religious beliefs or risk endless litigation.

Mary Rice Hasson: Religious liberty is not just the right to believe, but freedom of action … We have a robust civil society of people of all faiths, whether they are Muslim or Jewish or Christian or Catholic, that contribute to caring for the most vulnerable because their faith inspires them to do so.

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] by stripping [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] protections, puts the thumb on the scale against people of faith. 

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] tips the scale and says to people of faith “you’re not welcome” … which is unnecessary. We can protect the vulnerable without telling people of faith that there’s no place for them.

Mary Rice Hasson: Any religious, house of worship, faith based charity that abides by restrictions based on biological sex … is going to be subject to a discrimination lawsuit. [H.R. 5] is a complete and radical change for the rights of religious Americans.

Mary Rice Hasson: Anything that a church is doing that is opened up to the public, you are going to have discrimination claims brought [if H.R. 5 becomes law].

What happens next?

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) used a Senate rule called “Rule 14” that allows a bill to bypass a Senate committee and be placed directly on the Senate Calendar of Business. This means that, even though the Judiciary Committee held a hearing today, Leader Schumer could bring H.R. 5 to the floor at any point. As the ERLC works to inform members of the U.S. Senate on the harms of the Equality Act, we will also work against attempts to pass components of the Equality Act in other places.

By / Mar 1

This week, the U.S. Senate Committees on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) and Finance held hearings on the nomination of Xavier Becerra for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Becerra is among President Joe Biden’s most controversial cabinet nominees, drawing significant opposition from pro-life Americans and religious liberty advocates.

Who is Xavier Becerra?

Currently, he serves as the attorney general of California, succeeding Kamala Harris after she was elected to the United States Senate in 2016. Prior to his appointment as attorney general, he served 12 terms in Congress as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

What is Becerra’s history regarding life and religious liberty issues?

As attorney general, Becerra targeted pregnancy resource centers, pro-life policies, and Catholic charities with a range of lawsuits challenging their religious liberty and conscience rights.

In a 2018 Supreme Court case titled National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Xavier Becerra, Attorney General of California, Becerra threatened to shut down pregnancy resource centers serving women and children in crisis. The conflict arose after California passed a law requiring pro-life centers to publicize abortion services provided by the state or face exorbitant fines that would likely run them out of business. Forcing pro-life pregnancy resource centers to advertise for abortions is antithetical to their mission. Thankfully, NIFLA won in a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court.

In possibly his most infamous pursuit, Becerra filed suit to strip conscience protections for religious organizations, such as the Catholic charity, Little Sisters of the Poor. The suit was an attempt to force them to violate their consciences by providing coverage of contraception and abortifacients to employees. The Little Sisters of the Poor have appeared before the Supreme Court multiple times, repeatedly asking for, and consistently winning, a religious exemption to the contraceptive mandate from the Affordable Care Act and resulting HHS regulations.

As a member of the House of Representatives, Becerra voted regularly against life-protecting and life-saving bills, including voting against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. He also voted against the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which would have prevented the federal government from denying federal funds to Catholic hospitals and other facilities that refuse to perform abortions. Additionally, he opposed investigating Planned Parenthood’s sale of “fetal tissue” leftover from abortion procedures. 

In December 2020, when then President-elect Biden announced Becerra’s nomination for HHS, ERLC president Russell Moore said

“I expect that, as he undergoes the process of the Senate’s constitutional duty to advise and consent, senators will ask Xavier Becerra about his troubling hostility to pregnancy resource centers and other faith-based institutions during his tenure as California attorney general, and whether such actions would characterize his potential leadership at HHS. The country desperately needs an HHS Department that can help unify and mobilize, not one that will further divide us. The new HHS secretary, a position that is crucially important but never more so than during a global pandemic, should have the coronavirus as enemy number one, not Americans with differing religious convictions.”

What happened at the Senate hearings this week?

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) opened the hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions by highlighting Becarra’s experience as a congressman and as California’s attorney general. Democratic Senators tended to ask questions regarding Becerra’s commitment to healthcare access, high drug prices, and the vaccine rollout. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans raised concerns over rural healthcare funding, excessive government regulations, and abortion. 

Abortion was first brought up in Sen. Mike Braun’s (R-Ind.) opening question. Noting Becerra’s liberal history on the subject, Braun asked if he would commit to “not using taxpayer money to fund abortions and abortion providers.” Becerra largely dodged the question and said that he is “committed to following the law regarding federal resources,” which leaves the door open for taxpayer funded abortions should the Hyde Amendment be repealed — as congressional Democrats have signaled they will try to do this year. The Indiana Senator also mentioned Becerra’s antipathy toward religious liberty, specifically his actions against the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Sen. Romney (R-Utah) also addressed abortion by pressing Becerra to explain his vote against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Becerra responded that he understands that people have deeply held beliefs and that he was sure they could find some “common ground.” However, Romney made it clear that while common ground is possible on many issues, it isn’t on partial-birth abortion. 

In the Senate Finance Committee hearing the next day, Becerra’s stances on abortion and religious liberty were questioned again by Republican lawmakers. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) began by stating that Becerra sued the federal government over 100 times as California’s attorney general — including multiple instances regarding conscience protections. In light of these lawsuits, Lankford asked if Becerra would “continue to enforce existing federal law on conscience issues” that he had argued against all the way to the Supreme Court. Lankford further pressed Becerra, asking whether or not faith-based entities would receive grants or aid “at the same level as non-faith based entities.” Becerra struggled to respond and pivoted towards a general response that he would uphold the laws as written. 

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said that he has serious concerns regarding Becerra’s “extreme” stance on both abortion and religious liberty. He asked Becerra if he could name “one abortion restriction he might support.” Once again, he responded with his increasingly common refrain that he would simply “follow the law.” 

After a brief recess, Becerra failed to answer any more substantively when Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) pressed him on enforcing Obamacare’s contraception mandate and accused him of “bullying” the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

How has the ERLC been involved?

The ERLC joined more than 60 pro-life organizations to send a Congressional letter highlighting concerns with Becerra’s nomination. Additionally, the ERLC submitted amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on the cases which Becerra antagonized the Little Sisters of the Poor and NIFLA.

What’s next?

If he passes both committee votes, Becerra will receive a floor vote and would need 50 votes to be confirmed. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) identifies as pro-life and has previously voted in favor of pro-life pieces of legislation such as the Born-Alive bill and the Pain Capable bill. It’s unclear whether Manchin will raise concerns about Becerra’s troubling pro-abortion track record. The ERLC will continue to be a voice for the voiceless and defend the lives of the unborn and the vulnerable.

By / Feb 8

The debate in Washington over infanticide is rightly shocking to many, but tragically, flows from the abortion industry’s recent advocacy for late-term abortion.

On Jan. 22, the chamber of the New York legislature filled with cheers as the state further codified abortion up until the moment of birth with the Reproductive Health Act. The One World Trade Center was then lit pink to celebrate Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signing the bill into law. The following week, further south, Virginia Del. Kathy Tran introduced an equally grievous bill, known as The Repeal Act, to allow for an abortion to occur in the third trimester for any reason. In seeking to understand the limits of her proposed abortion bill, fellow state Del. Todd Gilbert asked if a woman who "has physical signs that she is about to give birth. Would that be a point at which she could still request an abortion if she is so certified? She's dilating."

The shock for many began when hearing Ms. Tran’s response: "Mr. Chairman, that would be a, you know, a decision that the doctor, the physician and the woman would make at this point."

"I understand that. I'm asking if your bill allows that," Gilbert replies.

Affirming the extreme position that has stained the mainstream of American discourse on abortion, Ms. Tran says, "My bill would allow that, yes.”

The public conversation then took a ghoulish turn the following day when Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, defended Ms. Tran’s proposed legislation on a Washington-area radio station, WTOP, “This is why decisions such as this should be made by providers, physicians, and the mothers and fathers that are involved,” Northam said. “When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of obviously the mother, with the consent of the physician—more than one physician, by the way—and it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s non-viable.”

Northam goes on to explain what he means, “If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

Make no mistake, the Virginia governor, in defending late term abortion, advocated for infanticide.

The “discussions that would ensue” would be a decision whether or not to end the life of a child born alive simply on the basis of whether or not the child is wanted. And the “severe deformities” mentioned with regard to abortion is often thinly veiled language for Down syndrome. For example, Iceland boasts an near elimination of Down syndrome in their country, but what they have actually done is eliminate through abortion their unborn neighbors who were diagnosed with Down syndrome.

The applause for late-term abortion in New York and the defense of infanticide in Virginia led U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R–Neb.) to the floor of the Senate on Thursday, Jan. 31, to call for a vote on his legislation to protect the very babies Gov. Northam advocated for leaving on the table.

The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, currently sponsored by Sen. Sasse as both S.130 and S. 311, would amend the federal criminal code to require any health care practitioner who is present when a child is born alive following an abortion or attempted abortion to, first, exercise the same degree of care as reasonably provided to any other child born alive at the same gestational age, and second, ensure that such a child is immediately admitted to a hospital. The bills currently enjoy the cosponsorship of over 45 Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.).

The Born-Alive bill is important because current federal law lacks sufficient legal protection and medical provision for children who survive failed abortions. When a child is born alive, whether in a hospital, at home, or in an abortion clinic, any action taken to end that child’s life is and always ought to be considered murder. Withholding medical care from such an infant denies the human dignity affirmed to that precious child by God. Such a callous dereliction of responsibility by the legal system also denies that child’s basic human right of life as guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

But then on Friday, Jan. 31, the controversy surrounding Gov. Northam took one more unexpected turn when a photo from his medical school yearbook was released. The photo on Northam’s page is of two young men at a party with one dressed in blackface and the other in a Klu Klux Klansmen outfit. As the story developed over the weekend, ERLC President Russell Moore weighed in to highlight what we’re missing in the scandal: “Many—on both the political Right and the political Left—are calling on the governor to resign. I agree with that call. Still, we shouldn’t let this moment pass by without sensing the underlying crisis. Abortion culture and racial injustice are not two separate impulses. They are one.” He continued:

Both seek to make invisible the vulnerable neighbor one’s group wishes to sacrifice for their own ends. Both use a spectrum of ways to get around the human conscience, which, when functioning, would recoil at smothering a baby on a table or lynching an African-American man. . . . Both of these aspects are rooted in the counter-Christ idolatry that sees human dignity and lives worth living defined by power.

The ERLC is committed to the vision Christ gives us of the kingdom of God where people flourish because human dignity is upheld and the justice required by Scripture is fulfilled. This is why the ERLC policy team in Washington advocates for justice as defined by Christ, whether the assault on human dignity comes from a white supremacist in the streets of Charlottesville or a governor on the airwaves of WTOP radio. As Moore stated in the above article, “Abortion and racial injustice are alike an affront to human dignity, and to the image of God.” In this moment of national debate, it is once again critical for the people of the cross to respond with clarity.

Thankfully, Sen. Sasse was clear when he took to the Senate floor to speak about Gov. Northam’s comments on the radio, "We’re talking about fourth-trimester abortion or what anyone in the normal world calls infanticide.” Sasse then fast tracked his Born-Alive legislation under the Rule XIV process and told the Senate he planned to ask for a vote by unanimous consent the following Monday. Asking for unanimous consent is a practice employed by the Senate often to do a variety of things such as congratulate the Super Bowl champions or even to take more significant actions like in 2016 when the Senate declared through unanimous consent the crimes in Syria and Iraq to be genocide.

On Monday, the Nebraska senator followed through and asked his colleagues for unanimous consent to ensure legal protection and medical care for a baby born alive after a failed abortion. In addition to Sen. Sasse’s leadership, Leader McConnell and Sens. Ernst (R–Iowa), Hawley (R–Mo.), Lankford (R–Okla.), and Braun (R–Ind.) each spoke in support of the Born-Alive bill.

The vote, however, was blocked by Sen. Patty Murray (D–Wash.). Sen. Murray arrived on the floor in time to object and then promptly left. Her reasoning for objecting was that it was “a gross misinterpretation of the actual language of the bill that is being asked to be considered.” After her objection, Sen. Ernst replied, “This body can no longer unanimously condemn murder.”

On Tuesday evening in the State of the Union address, the president pledged to sign legislation to protect children from infanticide as well as a bill to prohibit late-term abortions of pain-capable children. Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.V.) explained after the speech why he was one of the few on the left side of the aisle open to support such a prohibition, “Late term abortions are just horrific, totally just wrong.”

The House joined the debate on Wednesday as Rep. Ann Wagner (R–Mo.) reintroduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act in her chamber of Congress as well. Rep. Wagner was joined on the House floor by Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R–La.) and many other members where they called for floor consideration of the legislation.

As this debate on late-term abortion unfolds, taking a stand against infanticide is a good place for our policymakers to start. Infanticide is a grotesque injustice, and the failure to say so is as inexcusable as it is morally reprehensible. Protecting the lives of living babies should not be a partisan issue.

Americans deserve to know where their elected officials stand on infanticide. The ERLC joins with the pro-life advocacy community in urging the U.S. Senate to take a roll call vote soon on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

This moment in American life may well cause some in the pro-life community to despair, but there are reasons for hope all around us if we look for them. In the very state that sparked this current debate, and whose governor confuses legal protection for innocent life as a personal religious matter rather than a matter of law and justice, is a reminder of the human dignity of the unborn. At the base of the One World Trade Center, recently lit pink to celebrate late-term abortion, New York memorialized the thousands of lives our country lost on Sep. 11, 2001. Among those souls lost to eternity that tragic day were 11 women expecting children. Forever etched in stone at the memorial reads the name of the expectant mother “and her unborn child.” Here, New York is right, and we join them in grieving the loss of both precious lives because both were made in the image of God.

The pro-life work for human dignity is a long arc, but the work is worth it. We move the debate forward because we ourselves have been moved by the good news of the kingdom of Christ. “Some of the consciences cheering on abortion, or slavery, or racism, or a multitude of other ghastly injustices may well be turned around, and may in good time lead in the cause of life and dignity and justice.” Moore reminds us in his piece titled, “When People Cheer Abortion,” written at the beginning of all of this last month, “We speak still, and, ultimately, we win. I suppose what I mean to write here is a Sunday school answer, one that is both true and beautiful. I know the answer is ‘Jesus.’ We’re just watching to see how to get there.”

Chelsea Patterson Sobolik and Jeff Pickering contributed to this article.