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Lack of restrictions on abortion-related travel and gender transition surgeries in national defense funding disappointing, ERLC says

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WASHINGTON (BP) – The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is lamenting the exclusion of any restrictions on abortion-related travel and gender transition surgeries in the recently passed 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The final NDAA, which sets the national defense budget for the upcoming fiscal year and sets military policy, was passed by Congress on Thursday, Dec. 14, and is expected to be signed by President Biden this week.

The bill supports $883.7 billion in funding for national defense, with $841.4 billion going directly to the Department of Defense (DOD), $32.4 billion going to national security programs within the Department of Energy (DOE) and $438.0 million going to other defense-related activities.

The version of the NDAA which passed House and Senate did not include several key priorities the ERLC had previously advocated for including restrictions on abortion-related travel, restrictions on financing for gender transition surgeries and support for Afghans who fled to the U.S. in 2021.

Hannah Daniel, policy manager for the ERLC, lamented these omissions from the NDAA.

“It is incredibly disappointing to see the NDAA move forward without addressing the egregious use of taxpayer funds for abortion travel and “gender transition” surgeries and procedures,” Daniel said.

“The bill also failed to provide a vital pathway to permanent status for our Afghan allies who continue to reside in limbo. The ERLC will continue to advocate for solutions to these issues in 2024, until each of these vulnerable populations are protected.”

A previous version of the bill, which included a Republican-backed proposal to block the Defense Department’s abortion travel policy, was passed by the House of Representatives over the summer.

However, the Senate-passed version of the bill did not include such provisions. A compromise version of the bill that was agreed to by conferees in December removed the proposal, in what some called a blow to conservatives.

The final version of the bill, which did not include the previously mentioned ERLC priorities, was passed by the House passed with a vote of 310 to 118, and the Senate with a vote of 87-13.

In a letter sent to both the Senate and House armed services committees this September, ERLC President Brent Leatherwood urged the inclusion of language which would block financing abortion-related travel.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization sent the issue of abortion back to the states, allowing many to enact pro-life laws restricting abortion,” Leatherwood said in the letter.

“Federally funded travel across state lines for the purpose of obtaining an abortion not only subverts the decision of these states to restrict abortion access, but uses taxpayer dollars to explicitly fund the facilitation of abortion, flouting federal law and the longstanding desires of the American people.

“The ERLC urges Congress to include House-passed language expanding protections against federal funding being used for abortion and abortion-related travel in the final NDAA.”

Leatherwood appealed to both past SBC resolutions and The Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

“Southern Baptists have recognized the sanctity of life in the womb and have repeatedly reaffirmed our strong commitment to protecting life and our support for abortion-vulnerable women in more than 20 resolutions over the past 40 years,” Leatherwood wrote.

“We believe that all people are made in the image of God and endowed with immeasurable worth, explicitly affirming “the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death” in Article XV of The Baptist Faith & Message, our denomination’s statement of faith. As a result, we strongly object to tax dollars being used for this great moral wrong, the taking of a preborn child’s life.”

Regarding restrictions on gender transitions, Leatherwood again appealed to Southern Baptist’s expressed belief on the topic. 

“As stated in the 2023 Resolution On Opposing Gender Transitions, we are fundamentally opposed to “gender transition” interventions and view such interventions as a futile quest to change one’s sex and a direct assault on God’s created order,” Leatherwood said.

“Article III of The Baptist Faith & Message, declares that “every person . . . possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love” and that God created “male and female as the crowning work of His creation. . . . The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation.” Maintaining the dignity and respect of God’s creation includes both opposing distortions of this created order and lovingly coming alongside those who may be experiencing gender dysphoria … Any federal funding of gender-transition services cultivates injustice by violating the consciences of taxpayers who oppose such services and by perpetrating irreversible bodily harm against our neighbors.”

The omission of any support for Afghans in the NDAA also drew attend from the ERLC, who had previously advocated for legislation that would provide them with support and protection.

“I cannot imagine the horror of watching as your society collapses all around you and having to flee for safety with loved ones,” said Leatherwood.

“Yet that is what so many Afghans faced one year ago. Unfortunately, the heartache of that nightmare has been compounded because of our national government’s unwillingness to fully embrace them,” he said. “Many of these individuals bravely served American service members in Afghanistan under the premise we would protect them.

“Because these neighbors of ours would no doubt face persecution or worse back home, we should keep that promise by now offering them full refugee status and giving them the opportunity to pursue flourishing lives here in America.”