By / Oct 14

Recently, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) released a new Interim Final Rule (IFR): Reproductive Health Services, 87 FR 55287. The rule expands access to abortion by amending current regulations and removing an exclusion on abortion counseling and abortions in the medical benefits package for veterans and eligible family members. This change in rules creates taxpayer-funded abortions by the VA. Following the announcement, the VA allowed 30 days for organizations and individuals to comment with concerns. The ERLC submitted comments raising our concerns with the rule. As that comment period closed Tuesday, the VA is obligated to respond to each of these comments before moving forward with the permanent change.

What changed because of the rule?

The rule change creates a number of problems in addition to expanded abortion access. The VA has argued that their rule change preempts state laws and would allow them to offer abortion even in states where it is banned. Additionally, the rule removes gestational limits, as well as allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest, and life or health of the mother. This functionally permits abortion on demand. The IFR argues that this is necessary because abortion is “medically necessary and appropriate” in instances of rape or incest. Finally, the rule would force medical professionals at the VA to participate in abortions, overriding conscience protections. 

Because the rule was submitted as an IFR, it did not have to go through the usual process of soliciting comments before going into effect. The VA claimed that because of special circumstances that it should be allowed to skip the review process and instead be implemented immediately. 

How did the ERLC respond?

The ERLC submitted comments opposing the rule along with other pro-life and religious liberty organizations. The ERLC objected to the way that the IFR would force taxpayers to fund abortions and force healthcare officials to violate their beliefs about the value of life. The ERLC and Southern Baptists have long affirmed that every life is worthy of protection, including the preborn. Because life begins at conception, abortion denies human life and dignity. 

Further, the ERLC condemned the IFR as unlawful because it was attempting to override the explicit statutory prohibition against the VA providing abortion services. A 1992 law explicitly forbids the VA from providing abortions. Further, the VA’s own former regulations clearly stated that the medical benefits and services would not include abortion and abortion counseling. Further, the VA’s explanation for why it should be allowed to override the 1992 law and former regulations rests on a faulty reading of a 1996 law which does not mention abortion with no evidence that Congress intended to override the former law. 

Finally, the ERLC called the administration to recognize that the rule did not provide exceptions for those who object to performing abortions because it violates their conscience rights and deeply held religious beliefs. The IFR makes no allowances for medical professionals who object, steamrolling over the rights of providers to live out their religious beliefs that every life is sacred and abortion violates human dignity. The VA’s decision to offer abortions is not a compelling government interest approaching the standard necessary to override the conscience rights of these doctors and nurses. 

As an unconstitutional rule that will lead to violations of human dignity and conscience rights, the ERLC called on the Department of Veteran Affairs to withdraw the rule.

How should Christians think about it?

The VA rule represents the most recent example of the pernicious lie that abortion is healthcare. All people should recognize that healthcare is oriented toward the preservation of human life. However, abortion’s sole purpose is the ending of a human life. However, Christians must also recognize that even the logic of abortion as healthcare falls apart in the circumstances of this rule. The VA’s new rule argues that these abortions are medically necessary, even though every state already has an exception for the life of the mother. Christians should be vocal in their opposition to this rule because it is an attempt by administration officials to circumvent state laws that clearly protect life and provide abortion on demand on the taxpayer’s dime.

Additionally, the law is a heinous overreach of the conscience rights of medical providers and would require them to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. As currently written, the state is not only allowing and funding the murder of the preborn, it is ordering Christian doctors and nurses to participate. As Christians we recognize that Christ alone is Lord of the conscience, and that our ultimate allegiance is to him. As Southern Baptists, this attempt to run roughshod over the consciences of Christian medical professionals and taxpayers is but the latest instance of Caesar attempting to exercise authority over a realm in which he has none. Christians should oppose this rule and its attempt to coopt Christian men and women into furthering a culture of death. 

By / Jan 29

Southern Baptists affirm 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 – including the unborn – and his knowledge of the unborn even precedes the creative act of conception (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:13).

In the aftermath of Roe v. Wade, the Hyde Amendment was introduced to prevent taxpayer dollars from being allocated for abortion. Americans are divided over the issue of abortion, and many Americans strongly object to their tax dollars being used for what they believe to be a great moral wrong. In 1976, the Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde proposed an amendment to the Departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare, Appropriation Act that prohibited the use of federal funds for abortion.

For over forty years, the Hyde Amendment has been passed each Congress. The Hyde Amendment blocks federal funding for abortions, except in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother, because Congressman Hyde believed that no one should be required to pay for abortion. Since Medicaid is funded both by federal and state dollars, states can decide to use their own fundings to cover abortions. Currently, 17 states have decided to use state funding to provide abortions for Medicaid recipients.

There is deep concern that the abortion industry is working to remove any Hyde protection during the 116th Congressional appropriations process. For the first time, the 2016 Democratic platform declared “they would continue to oppose, and seek to overturn, federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.” Before the Hyde Amendment was introduced, approximately 300,000 abortions a year were performed using Medicaid dollars. It is estimated that the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million lives since it was enacted.

The ERLC strongly urges Congress to defend these 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 116th Congress. The Hyde Amendment saves lives and protects American consciences by preventing taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortions.

By / Dec 19

WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 19, 2018—Southern Baptist leaders in Texas join the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention in calling for a repeal of the parking and transportation tax on non-profit organizations, including houses of worship found in the Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017. 

Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church in Houston, Texas and Dr. Robert B. Sloan, president of Houston Baptist University, published an op-ed in today’s Houston Chronicle calling the provision fundamentally troubling for the future of religious freedom.  

“There are important reasons why non-profits and houses of worship are not taxed in the United States” write Lino and Sloan. “The bright line that separates the domain of church from the domain of state must be guarded. One of the most fundamental powers the state has is the authority to tax. Houses of worship ought not be taxed because houses of worship ought not be regulated by the government.”

In addition to the provision’s threat to religious freedom, Lino and Sloan also argue that the tax is “counterproductive to American values.”

“The operational costs on nonprofits and houses of worship to pay this tax will likely exceed the federal revenue generated from it,” they write. “At the heart of public service is the pursuit of the public good, whether through elected office in D.C. or through the charitable sector in religious communities. We ought to all be able to agree that the public good is not served by a tax like that. This new burden dropped on the doorsteps of nonprofits and houses of worship is one government leaders must reconsider and repeal before the year ends.” 

ERLC President, Russell Moore, also recently wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, calling for an end to the tax on houses of worship. 

Moore writes: 

“The imposition of a tax burden on churches, religious schools, and other charities is a shocking change in the federal government’s orientation toward these organizations of goodwill. The new tax requires institutions to file federal Form 990-T and possibly pay taxes every year—regardless of whether they engage in any unrelated business activity. In addition to the new federal requirements, many nonprofits will then face the requirement to file state returns and possibly pay state income tax. Further, in the name of taxing parking lots, the new regulations created a new tax liability. In turn, this creates new operations costs for proper accounting and regulatory compliance at every nonprofit organization. For many nonprofits, these operations costs could exceed the amount of money actually collected by the Internal Revenue Service.”

The ERLC’s coalition letter calling for the tax repeal can be accessed here

By / Mar 30

For years ERLC has included in our legislative and policy agenda the objective of defunding Planned Parenthood—a goal shared by the GOP. Now that the Republicans control the White House and have majorities in both houses of Congress, it seemed like taxpayers might finally be able to stop funding America’s largest abortion provider.

Pro-lifers were excited to find in the American Health Care Act (AHCA), a bill to modify President Obama’s landmark healthcare legislation, a defunding measure. Yet only after that measure fail to many pro-lifers (like me) read the fine print: the AHCA would have only defunded Planned Parenthood for one year.

Why is it so difficult to keep taxpayer money from flowing to one of America’s most evil corporations? The answer is the Senate and the courts.

The primary reason that denying taxpayer funds to an organization that performs abortions is politically untenable is because one of the two major political parties in America fully supports taxpayer funding of abortions. The use of taxpayer monies to pay for any abortion in all nine months of pregnancy for any woman who wants one is literally a plank in the Democratic Party platform:

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way.

Notice the claim to “oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right” includes the “right” to taxpayer-funded abortions. When an entire political party clarifies that they will oppose any efforts to reduce taxpayer funding that goes to pay for abortions, we shouldn’t be surprised when members of that political party oppose an effort to eliminate taxpayer funding of the group that performs the most abortions in America.

This has certainly been the pattern in the past. When this issue came up in Congress in August 2015 the vote was 241-187 to defund Planned Parenthood. Only three Republicans voted against the measure and only two Democrats voted for it. The Senate defeated the same measure 46 to 53. It needed 60 votes to pass. Only two Democrats in the Senate—Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)—voted to cut off the funding and one Republican—Mark Kirk (R-Il.)—voted to keep funding. (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted no, but only because that allows him to bring the bill back for a vote at a later time.)

Even though the House has enough votes to pass defunding and President Trump would sign it into law, a full-scale defunding bill currently can’t get through the Senate because of the ability of Democrats in to filibuster any legislation that can’t reach a veto-proof 67 votes.

That is why House Speaker Paul Ryan is proposing once again to defund through the budget reconciliation process, which would require only 51 votes in the Senate. "We think reconciliation is the tool, because that gets it in law. Reconciliation is the way to go," said Speaker Ryan in recent press conference. While this would be a positive step forward, it would only defund the abortion provider for one year.

Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to the federal level. Even efforts to defund Planned Parenthood at the state level have been rebuffed because of the courts.

In 2011, Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-In.) signed a law to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving any Medicaid funding from the state of Indiana. Soon after, lawmakers in Arizona, North Carolina, Kansas, Tennessee, and Texas also attempted to exclude funding of the abortion provider from their states’ pools of public insurance providers.

In response, the federal courts have blocked all of those efforts, ruling that states cannot deny women access to providers who meet the federal requirements to qualify for Medicaid. Planned Parenthood is classified as a “qualified medical provider” and is thus eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.

In 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry found a workaround: refuse to accept federal funding for the state’s women’s health programs. By choosing to fully fund the program at the state level, Texas is technically allowed to exclude Planned Parenthood.  But Planned Parenthood sued the state to prevent defunding and won an injunction. A U.S. District recently extended the injunction blocking Texas from removing Planned Parenthood from Medicaid contracts until the conclusion of the full trial of the abortion company’s lawsuit.

Last month, the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate voted on a similar measure. If the bill passes the state House and is signed into law it will likely be subject to a similar lawsuit as the one in Texas.

In the fact of our impending failure, pro-lifers shouldn’t grow discouraged. But we should be realistic. Currently, there isn’t much we can do to stop the flow of federal money to abortion providers. Until there are more pro-life members in the Senate, Planned Parenthood will continue to collect more than $60,000 an hour, every hour of every day of every year, from the American taxpayer.

By / Jan 19

Every year since 1976, a small provision is added to the federal budget bill; and year after year, this little-known amendment is passed with little fanfare or controversy. 

Several weeks ago, however, Hillary Clinton mentioned this amendment during a speech, calling for its complete abolishment. 

Although this announcement didn’t make major waves in the media, the fulfillment of her vision would leave a devastating wake for the rights of millions of Americans – both born and unborn.

First sponsored in 1976 by Congressman Henry Hyde, the Hyde Amendment is a provision added to every federal budget bill. It prohibits federal Medicaid dollars from directly funding abortions, except in the instance of rape, incest, or the health of the mother.

Opponents of the Hyde Amendment claim that it unfairly targets low-income women as they are unable to utilize Medicaid funds to pay for abortions. Many pro-abortion advocates claim that these restrictions impede these women’s right to an abortion as established in Roe v. Wade.

Yet the Supreme Court has said otherwise. In a 1980 case challenging the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment, the Court ruled that a woman’s right to choose to abort her baby does not carry with it entitlement to have that abortion paid for with taxpayer dollars. The Court held in Harris v. McRae:

The funding restrictions of the Hyde Amendment do not impinge on the "liberty" protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment held in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 168, to include the freedom of a woman to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. […]

Regardless of whether the freedom of a woman to choose to terminate her pregnancy for health reasons lies at the core or the periphery of the due process liberty recognized in Wade, supra, it does not follow that a woman's freedom of choice carries with it a constitutional entitlement to the financial resources to avail herself of the full range of protected choices. 

And just a year before Harris v. McRae was decided, the Court ruled in Maher v. Roe that Roe v. Wade does not establish a woman’s right to a free abortion. Maher took up the question of whether the Constitution requires a state Medicaid program to pay for abortions when it covers childbirth costs for women. The Court held:

Roe did not declare an unqualified "constitutional right to an abortion," as the District Court seemed to think. Rather, the right protects the woman from unduly burdensome interference with her freedom to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy. It implies no limitation on the authority of a State to make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion, and to implement that judgment by the allocation of public funds.

Harris and Maher, along with a line of cases that followed, made clear that taxpayer funding of abortion (i.e. the abandonment of the Hyde Amendment) is a huge leap from Roe v. Wade that the State is not obligated to take.  

Roe said that the government cannot impede a woman’s choice to abort her child by, for example, criminalizing abortion. But Roe did not establish a positive right to an abortion, meaning the government would then have to finance that abortion for any woman that chooses to have one at any point in her pregnancy.

This is a critical distinction.

Post-Roe abortion cases make it very clear that federal and state governments may decide to not allow government officials, buildings, or funds be used in abortions. Why? Because governments have traditionally supported public policies that incentivize and encourage childbirth. The future of society depends on future generations.

But it goes even deeper than this. Our nation was founded upon the fundamental idea that governments exist to protect God-given rights, chief among them the right to life, no matter what your age, social class, religion, etc.

Are we as a society really ready and willing to say that somehow lives born into difficult circumstances are so invaluable that we are willing to use federal tax dollars to incentivize the termination of these lives? Such a step would abandon all reverence for life enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and more than two centuries of public policy.

Beyond this, it’s difficult to even begin grasping the numerous constitutional liberties implicated if our taxpayer dollars funded abortions. After all, there’s a big difference between your hard-earned dollars paying for political spending you voted against in the last election and your money funding the elimination of thousands of vulnerable human lives each year. This isn’t political; this is a matter of conscience and conviction relating to human dignity.

As Congressman Henry Hyde said during a House floor debate about abortion, “[This] is a debate about our understanding of human dignity, what it means to be a member of the human family, even though tiny, powerless and unwanted.”

The end of the Hyde Amendment would mean federally funded abortion on demand.

The move to abolish the Hyde Amendment is yet another signal that abortion advocates are moving away from their mantra of “safe, legal, and rare,” to something more akin to abortion “any time, for any reason, at no cost.” 

But the problem with that refrain is that it is false advertising. Abortion always has a cost. It costs a mother her child, her child its life, and society the basic understanding of what it means to be human.