President signs executive order to protect vulnerable newborns

President Donald Trump on September 25 issued “Executive Order on protecting vulnerable newborn and infant children.” The order ties federal funds disbursed by the Department of Health and Human Services to compliance by health care providers with certain federal laws.

The order states, “It is the policy of the United States to recognize the human dignity and inherent worth of every newborn or other infant child, regardless of prematurity or disability, and to ensure for each child due protection under the law.”

The order refers to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTLA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (a statute affirming rights for people with disabilities), and the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. “The [HHS] Secretary shall, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, ensure that Federal funding disbursed by the Department of Health and Human Services is expended in full compliance with EMTALA and section 504 of the Rehab Act, as interpreted consistent with the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act…”

Text of executive order

Commentary on the order, by bioethicist Wesley J. Smith: “Trump Signs Order to Save Babies Who Survive Abortion”

On the March in D.C.

The 2020 March for Life in Washington will go down in the books as the first one ever addressed in person by the President of the United States. (You can see the video and read the transcript here, courtesy of the Susan B. Anthony List.) He brought more news coverage to the event – possibly just to cover his speech, but I’d like to think the March itself got more coverage as well.

I don’t need anyone to tell me how significant was the President’s presence. The March has gone on every year since 1974, and not even Ronald Reagan ever came in person. Yet I hope President Trump understands something: he has more to learn from the pro-life movement than the pro-life movement has to learn from him.

I did not go to the mainstage rally at the March. Many of the names on the schedule were already familiar to me. I was happy to yield my place on the Mall to someone who was hearing them – not to mention seeing the President – for the first time.

I went to a side rally. More like a meetup. We were all in sync as far as being pro-life, and beyond that we had all kinds of differences. (And that’s fine.) I met new people, heard their stories, learned new things. And then we marched.

Photo in post header: my view from the middle of the March. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

Abortion Survivors: “Don’t Have a Conversation About Us Without Us”

From my latest post at DaTechGuy Blog:

President Trump invited abortion survivors to the White House on February 14 to tell him their own stories. Among the survivors was Melissa Ohden, whose 2017 book You Carried Me is an account of her remarkable life, a life she knows wasn’t supposed to happen.

From Ms. Ohden via Facebook:

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It seems like the world is having a conversation about abortion, children surviving abortions, and they don’t realize or acknowledge that there are a group of people who know all too well what everyone is talking about. 

Don’t have a conversation about abortion without those who have survived it. Don’t have a conversation about us, without us. 

Listen to our voices. Share our stories. We’re not hypothetical cases. We’re human beings.

You can find my full post here. Thanks for reading.

The Mandate Takes a Hit. That’s Not Enough.

Nine months after taking office, five months after assuring the Little Sisters of the Poor that they could quit fearing fines, the Administration of President Donald Trump has announced a rollback of the HHS contraceptive mandate. (See here for my earlier coverage of the mandate.)

From Fox News:

The Trump administration on Friday announced a major rollback of the ObamaCare contraceptive mandate, granting what officials called “full protection” to a wide range of companies and organizations that claim a “religious or moral objection” to providing the coverage. 

The mandate, which has been the subject of multiple legal challenges, has required employers that provide health insurance to cover contraceptives. Under the existing policy, churches and houses of worship were exempt, while religious-affiliated groups that object had to allow a third-party administrator or insurer to handle birth control coverage. The 2014 Hobby Lobby decision expanded exemptions to for-profit “closely held” corporations.

But under the new policy unveiled Friday, the Trump administration is expanding the protections to any nonprofit group, non-publicly traded company, or higher education institution with religious or moral objections — and making the third-party provision optional for groups with “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

 (Full Fox News post here.)

I’m pleased that the President has followed through on a commitment he could have carried out his first day in office. Better late than never. Maybe he has no roots on this, and it took time for the people around him to put the ducks in a row. Notice the arm’s length language of the news report: Trump administration did thisofficials said that

I’m grateful. That’s simple courtesy and a measure of positive reinforcement. But I’m not going to grovel over the recognition of my rights of conscience and religious liberty that should never have been abrogated in the first place. It’s not as though the President is doing me a favor.

Actually, today’s action does sound like someone thinks there are favors to be dispensed. The news coverage speaks of exemptions, protection, and rollback. Selected entities are added to the list of exempt organizations. No mention of the First Amendment, at least in the initial breaking news update. It’s the First Amendment that’s at issue, which is something the mandate’s supporters have ferociously denied since 2012.

Why does the mandate stand at all? Why is there still anything to be exempted from?

The contraceptive mandate came out of Obamacare’s definition of birth control for women as “preventive care.” In a manner beyond anything the rankest sexist could have dreamed, Obamacare made it government policy that women are broken and need to be fixed. The normal functioning of a woman’s body was something to be “prevented.” Contraception was shifted from being a matter of choice to being a matter of public policy, forcing employers who chose to offer health insurance coverage to be involved in employees’ birth control decisions. Nothing ever put employers into employees’ bedrooms quite like the contraceptive mandate.

It’s to the everlasting credit of the American Catholic bishops that they recognized the mandate’s threat to religious liberty. Among other things, they knew that the Catholic health care system – which provides care to more women than any other provider in the nation – could be fined out of existence by the mandate.

The mandate originally came with exemptions for some politically-favored companies and organizations. Hobby Lobby and other plaintiffs later earned a Supreme Court victory that was extremely narrow, releasing closely-held companies from the mandate. President Trump told the Little Sisters of the Poor earlier this year that they could consider themselves free from fear of being fined for not wishing to pay for insurance coverage for employees’ birth control. At least fifty other lawsuits are pending against the mandate; I don’t know how many just became moot.

Today, the mandate took a serious hit. It’s still staggering around, though. The only way to kill it is to abandon the policy that gave rise to it in the first place. Stop treating the suppression of women’s fertility as “preventive care.” Stop expecting “free” contraception. When “free” means compelling financial support from people with religious objections to contraception, then “free” is too expensive.

Today’s action from the Trump Administration is long overdue. It’s the biggest hit on the mandate since Hobby Lobby. The mandate’s foundation remains in place, though. For religious resisters to the mandate, First Amendment rights are still at risk. May today be a spark to renewed assertion of those rights.

“Considering” religious liberty

President Trump has issued an executive order on religious liberty, addressing in part the litigation between the government and the Little Sisters of the Poor over the government’s contraceptive mandate.  The Sisters are apparently off the hook, if I properly understood the remarks the President made before he signed the order.

(Some of my earlier posts about the mandate are collected here.)

Pope Francis visiting Little Sisters of the Poor. Photo from littlesistersofthepoor.org.

The Sisters are among the many plaintiffs who object to the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare on religious grounds. They don’t want to help procure contraception or abortion-inducing drugs and devices for their employees via employer-provided insurance. They have to go to court over this, lest they face fines that would destroy their ability to carry out their vocation to minister to impoverished elders.

The operative line in President Trump’s order is this: “The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate…” (Recall that contraception was declared to be “preventive” care under Obamacare.)

Consider issuing amended regulations?

I’m happy for the Sisters. This is good news, as far as it goes. But there’s a long way to go before the mandate is history.