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ERLC urges Senate leaders to restore pro-life protections

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WASHINGTON (BP)—The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission urged U.S. Senate leaders Friday (July 30) to reinstate long-standing, pro-life policies removed from spending bills by the House of Representatives.

The request from the ERLC came after the Democratic-controlled House approved appropriations bills July 28 and 29 that eliminated the Hyde Amendment and other measures that either prohibit federal funding of abortion or protect the conscience rights of pro-life, health-care workers and institutions. The spending bills without the pro-life “riders,” as they are known, are expected to face a challenge in the Senate, which is divided evenly between the two political parties.

In the letter, Daniel Patterson, the ERLC’s acting president, urged the Senate “to restore these lifesaving provisions.”

“[W]e strongly object to tax dollars being used for what we believe to be a great moral wrong,” Patterson told the Senate leadership. “These amendments save lives and protect American consciences.”

He described reinstating the pro-life protections as “courageous leadership” that acknowledges the United States “is strongest when we respect one another in the midst of our disagreements. Such an act of across-the-aisle policymaking is desperately needed.”

Messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in June approved a resolution that denounced any attempt to rescind the Hyde Amendment and urged the retention of all pro-life “riders,” a development Patterson cited in his letter. It is estimated the Hyde Amendment — which has barred federal funds in Medicaid and other programs from paying for abortions in every year since 1976 — has saved the lives of about 2½ million unborn children.

The House’s passage of spending measures that excluded traditional pro-life “riders” came in a 219-208 vote for a seven-bill “minibus,” as it was labeled, Thursday (July 29) and a 217-212 vote for the State Department/Foreign Operations bill July 28. The “minibus” consisted of funds for such departments as Health and Human Services, Labor, Education, Agriculture and Interior.

In addition to the Hyde Amendment, other pro-life protections eliminated by the House in the appropriations legislation included the:

— Weldon Amendment, which has barred since 2004 funding for government programs that discriminate against health-care individuals or institutions that object to abortion.

— Helms Amendment, a rider first approved in 1973 that prohibits foreign aid funds from being used for abortion as a method of family planning.

— Dornan Amendment, which was first adopted in 1988 and has barred in most of the years since federal funds, as well as congressionally approved local ones, from paying for elective abortions in the District of Columbia.

— Smith Amendment, which has barred in nearly every year since 1984 federal employee health plans from paying for abortions.

The State/Foreign Operations spending bill also bans a president from restoring the Mexico City Policy, which bars organizations from receiving federal funds unless they agree not to perform or promote abortions internationally. The Trump administration expanded the policy and retitled it Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance.

The ERLC cited these concerns and others in a 14-page document regarding the House appropriations bills that it sent with the letter to Senate leaders.

Chelsea Sobolik, the ERLC’s acting director of public policy, described approval of the spending bills without pro-life “riders” as “a grievous error by House Democrats.”

“With the elimination of the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life provisions, these spending bills obliterate decades of bipartisan cooperation preventing taxpayer funding of abortion,” Sobolik told Baptist Press in written comments.

In the letter, the ERLC is “calling upon Senate leadership and pro-life senators to stand strong and ensure preborn lives will not be in jeopardy and consciences will not be compromised,” she said. “The message is simple: respect precedent, restore Hyde.”

The letter was sent to Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the ranking member of the committee.

The ERLC, which has worked for a comprehensive ban on federal funding of abortion, included the protection of pro-life “riders” in spending legislation as one of its priorities in its 2021 Public Policy Agenda. In May, it joined in a letter signed by more than 60 other pro-life advocates that asked Senate and House leaders to maintain the bans.

The Hyde Amendment and similar bans in federal programs must be approved each year as “riders” to spending bills. Hyde includes exceptions for a threat to the mother’s life, rape and incest.

While Hyde has long been backed by a significant percentage of pro-choice advocates, Democratic opposition to the amendment has grown in recent years. President Biden supported the amendment during his 36 years in the U.S. Senate, but he reversed his position in 2019 while running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Hyde Amendment has saved the lives of more than 2.4 million unborn children since its inception, according to an estimate in July 2020 by Michael New, veteran researcher and associate scholar of the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute.