Promises Made, Promises Kept on Life and Religious Freedom

December 17, 2020

Despite being only a few days away from Christmas vacation, the Trump administration continues to follow through on its commitment to life and religious liberty, with nine different federal agencies finalizing a joint rule this week providing for fair and equal treatment for religious groups in federal programs. HHS Secretary Alex Azar joined me yesterday on "Washington Watch" to discuss his department's participation in this rule.

Secretary Azar explained that the Obama administration had put "a scarlet letter" on faith-based providers which required them to announce their status and direct funds to secular providers instead. Yet "if their faith wasn't there, most of them would not be nonprofits," Secretary Azar told me. "That's what motivates them." Indeed, by breaking with the previous administration's discrimination, the Trump administration's HHS has proven its commitment to protect religious liberty once again and to respect the good that faith-based nonprofits do.

The administration put an exclamation point on its work yesterday when Vice President Mike Pence headlined a "Life is Winning" event at the White House celebrating the pro-life achievements of this administration -- including, among other things, President Trump's appearance at the March for Life, the Vice President's own tiebreaking vote which allowed states to defund abortion giant Planned Parenthood, and the administration's reinstation and expansion of the Mexico City Policy. He also discussed President Trump and the HHS' decision to end fetal tissue research at the National Institutes for Health. Additionally, Trump has appointed more than 220 conservative judges to federal courts, including Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

I wished I could be at this event, but I was down in Georgia mobilizing faith-based voters for the two Senate run-offs coming up in January. In his remarks, I appreciate that the Vice President recognized the role Family Research Council and others play in advancing this issue. "In this administration, it's always been about life," he said.

Yet, the administration wasn't done fulfilling its policy promises on life and religious freedom. At the White House event, even more pro-life and pro-freedom actions were announced:

  • DOJ filed a civil lawsuit against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) for forcing a nurse to assist in an elective abortion procedure, on the grounds that it violated a federal anti-discrimination statute known as the "Church Amendments," which prohibits health care entities from discrimination against health care workers who refuse to perform or assist with abortions due to their convictions. The DOJ issued a strong statement on the matter, saying it "will not stand for this shocking and outrageous attack against the right of all people in this free country to follow their conscience." This follows HHS action on this matter last year.
  • HHS' Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced that it disallowed $200 million in California medical funds in the upcoming quarter due to an unlawful abortion insurance mandate forcing health care plans to cover abortion without exclusion or limitation. This mandate violates the Weldon Amendment, which protects entities from being forced to provide, pay for, or provide coverage for abortions. Despite multiple demands from the OCR, California has refused to comply with the Weldon Amendment. This step continues enforcement action against California which Secretary Azar had announced at FRC's ProLifeCon event last January.
  • Finally, HHS OCR took steps to ensure religious patients had access to clergy at the Mt. Sinai Hospital system in New York during the COVID-19 pandemic. After a Jewish community advocacy organization filed a complaint with OCR over one Jewish patient's inability to access Kosher food from a rabbi and another's inability to receive spiritual care following the birth of her stillborn baby, the OCR has announced a resolution defending the necessity of allowing rabbis to visit patients despite the pandemic.

Yesterday was a banner day for life and religious freedom. Despite unprecedented opposition on a host of fronts, the Trump administration has continued to fulfill promises made on life and religious freedom.

President Trump, Vice President Pence, and a host of administration officials should be proud of all the work they have done on behalf of life and religious liberty. Family Research Council applauds the Trump administration's continued devotion to these fundamental policy issues