Uncertainty remains on string of pro-family measures in spending bill
As much of the nation swelters under the summer sun, things are also heating up under the Capitol dome. One of the hot points for Congress is what to do about funding the government into the next fiscal year. And as a Sept. 30 deadline fast approaches, much of the heated debate centers on whether an appropriations package should give life to a series of proposed socially conservative measures or let them wilt and die until a potentially more fertile political season.
Drawing cheers from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education gave fresh life to a crop of measures by approving last week a spending bill for fiscal year 2013 that includes a host of values-based provisions—from protecting religious employers from being forced to violate their consciences under the administration’s contraceptive mandate to withholding funds from Planned Parenthood to expanding funding for abstinence-based education.
The bill, ushered through the subcommittee by its chairman, Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-MT), includes much that religious liberty advocates and social conservatives can applaud. Included in the bill is:
• The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act—a major blow to the Obama administration’s health insurance mandate on contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs—specifying that a health plan, plan sponsor, health care provider, or other person cannot be forced to provide coverage of, participate in, or refer for morally objectionable services such as abortion or be discriminated against for failure to do so;
• The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar discrimination against health workers and providers who refuse to perform such services as abortion;
• A zeroing out of funds to Planned Parenthood unless the nation’s No. 1 abortion provider stops participating in abortion; and
• A $5 million increase in funding for abstinence education, while cutting the contraceptive-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program from $100 million to $20 million.
Now a major question looms: Will the full Appropriations Committee and then the House press forward on the recommendations of Rep. Rehberg’s subcommittee?
The ERLC and other pro-family groups hope that answer is yes. In a letter sent July 26 to Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY), ERLC President Richard Land urged him to push the full committee “to hold a markup of the subcommittee’s bill and to retain these provisions in its final bill.”
And with the coming storm for millions of people of faith in the form of the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate—which would require religious employers and individuals to violate their moral convictions on abortion under health care—the need to act swiftly to hold back the deluge is particularly acute.
To that end, more than 60 faith leaders collectively reiterated this week their desire that Congress pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179) to provide conscience protections under the health care law. “We strongly urge House leadership to take whatever steps are necessary to work toward the enactment of Congressman [Jeff] Fortenberry’s bill,” the leaders, including Land, wrote in a July 23 letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA).
But with posturing for the November elections and talk of job creation taking up much of the oxygen in Washington, many lawmakers are indicating that social and religious liberty issues should be put on hold. Others are hoping simply to bypass passage of the dozen annual spending bills by opting for a continuing resolution. That, in effect, could mean the death of the string of pro-family measures that have been given a recent shot of life.
As the heat of summer drags on, inside and outside the Capitol, it would be a shame to see the recent efforts from the House subcommittee lay dormant for another season. Perhaps the best answer is some additional heat—this time directed at lawmakers from the people who sent them to Washington.
If you agree, please contact your representative and urge him or her to support enactment of these pro-family measures this year. Representatives who serve on the House Appropriations Committee especially need to hear from their constituents urging them to call for full committee consideration of Rep. Rehberg’s subcommittee-approved bill and retention of the provisions that uphold freedom of religion, the sanctity of human life, and other pro-family ideals.