WASHINGTON — Social conservatives are hoping for progress on religious freedom and pro-life issues with changes in the White House and Congress.
Donald Trump’s upset of Hillary Clinton for the presidency — paired with the GOP’s preservation of its majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives — has suddenly encouraged conservative evangelical Christians and their allies to think they will be able to roll back some harmful policies and to advance some helpful ones.
The president-elect, who will be inaugurated Jan. 20, could produce some of those changes on his own. For instance, Trump could act to reverse the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate and its sweeping transgender directive to schools.
The Senate and House can back up some Trump executive actions by making them permanent through legislation. In addition, he can work with the Senate to place justices on the Supreme Court who interpret the Constitution by its original intent and cooperate with Congress to defund Planned Parenthood and ban late-term abortions.
The success of such efforts will depend on Trump’s follow-through on his campaign promises and Republicans’ willingness and ability to move those policies forward.
“Every Election Day brings with it a new balance of power and, with it, new possibilities,” said Travis Wussow of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
“As it does, we look forward to working with elected officials across the branches of government to continue our pursuit of legislation that promotes religious freedom, human dignity, family stability and other issues that serve both our churches and our country,” Wussow said Nov. 10 in written comments.
Wussow, who has been serving as the ERLC’s director of international justice and religious liberty the last 15 months, recently was named the entity’s vice president for public policy as well as general counsel.
Domestically, many of the Obama administration’s attacks on religious freedom “can be rectified in the very first days of a Trump administration,” said Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow who specializes in marriage and religious liberty for the Heritage Foundation.
In a Nov. 9 post, Anderson said Trump can:
- Direct his secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to furnish strong religious freedom protections in the abortion/contraception mandate, a rule implementing the 2010 health-care law that requires employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions.
- Instruct his secretary of education and attorney general not to interpret the word “sex” in federal education law to include gender identity, thereby reversing a May letter from the Departments of Education and Justice that directed public schools and universities to permit transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity instead of their biological sex.
- Tell his HHS secretary also to interpret “sex” as Congress intended, which would rescind the department’s July directive that requires doctors to perform gender transition procedures or treatments even on children.
- Overturn Obama’s executive order prohibiting federal contractors and foreign recipients of American aid from discriminating on the basis of “sexual orientation and gender identity.”
- Issue an executive order that protects individuals and institutions from being penalized by the federal government for acting in support of their belief marriage is only between a man and a woman.
Congress and Trump can work together to enact laws that will provide permanent religious freedom protections on these issues, Anderson said. Among the measures would be repeal of the health-care law and passage of the First Amendment Defense Act, which would help protect those who believe in only man-woman marriage.
“Donald Trump promised that he would make America great again,” Anderson wrote. “If he is to make good on that promise, he’ll need to start by robustly restoring our first freedom: the free exercise of religion.
“Trump should commit to protecting the free exercise of religion for all Americans of all faiths.”
Even before the election, the ERLC’s Wussow and Matthew Hawkins, the entity’s coalitions director, proposed ways for the next president to boost global religious liberty. In a Nov. 3 column for the Religious Freedom Institute, they called on the next White House occupant to:
- Enact the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act if it does not become law this year. The bill, already approved by the House, would strengthen the Department of State’s capabilities regarding religious liberty overseas.
- Encourage bipartisanship between Democrats and Republicans to protect the free exercise of religion internationally.
- Promote new arguments for the advancement of religious liberty around the world.
“Those of us who advocate for our brothers and sisters in Christ — and for imperiled members of any faith or none at all — pray that we will find a fellow advocate in the Oval Office,” Wussow and Hawkins wrote.
Regarding abortion, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, described the post-election landscape as a “historic moment for the pro-life movement.”
“We are poised to make the biggest executive, legislative and judicial advances for the protection of unborn children and their mothers since Roe v. Wade was decided,” she said in a written statement. The 1973 Roe ruling by the Supreme Court legalized abortion throughout the country.
Four goals are within reach for the pro-life movement, Dannenfelser said: “[E]nding painful late-term abortions, codifying the Hyde Amendment, defunding Planned Parenthood, and appointing pro-life Supreme Court Justices.”
The Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act would 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 No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act would institute a government-wide ban on federal funding of abortion by standardizing prohibitions on such funds that now exist in various federal programs, thereby making the Hyde Amendment permanent.
Planned Parenthood — the scandal-ridden, leading abortion provider in the country — receives more than $500 million annually in government grants and reimbursements.
As of 2 p.m. EST Friday, Republicans held majorities in the Senate by 51-48 and in the House by 238-193. The winners in one Senate race and four House races remained undetermined.
— by Tom Strode | BP