Pro-life advocates have praised recent actions by the Trump administration to protect newly born children and to broaden the ban on funds for international abortion rights organizations.
President Donald Trump announced Sept. 23 he would sign what he described as “the born-alive executive order” to guarantee all babies receive the health care necessary regardless of their circumstances.
In another act, the Trump administration proposed Sept. 14 a new regulation to expand the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance (PLGHA) rule, which prohibits federal funds for organizations that perform or actively promote abortions overseas. The proposal for what initially was known as the Mexico City Policy mandates that international groups that receive U.S. global health support cannot advocate for or provide abortions even with funds from other sources.
The proposed rule followed the Aug. 18 release of an administration review of the PLGHA policy that Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said “reaffirms that the United States can continue to meet its critical global health goals, while protecting life abroad through its global health assistance programs.” The review found only eight of 1,340 prime recipients of grants and 47 sub-awardees refused to agree to the requirements of the PLGHA, thereby forfeiting the funds.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is “encouraged by the effectiveness” of the PLGHA, said Chelsea Sobolik, an ERLC policy director. “This policy is lifesaving because it ties foreign aid to a requirement that international nongovernmental organizations agree to neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.”
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, expressed gratitude to the president and his administration “for preventing taxpayer funds from being used to pay for abortions around the globe. American taxpayers should not be coerced into participating in abortions.”
Planned Parenthood, the country’s No. 1 abortion provider, decried the proposal.
The policy, which was reinstituted and expanded in the first week of Trump’s presidency in 2017, “was among the first of many attacks the administration launched against health and human rights,” said Monica Kerrigan, executive director of Planned Parenthood Global, the international arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “There is no excuse for this brazen disregard for people’s health and rights.”
Two of the prime awardees that declined to agree to the PLGHA terms were the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPFF) and Marie Stopes International (MSI), leading abortion advocacy organizations overseas. The Government Accountability Office reported in March the IPPF and MSI were the largest prime recipients to reject the requirements and more than half of the sub-grantees that refused were affiliated with those organizations, according to the Center for Family and Human Rights.
The review, the second conducted by the Trump administration, reported “the transitions to alternative health providers have been, for the most part, smooth” when groups refused to agree to the PLGHA requirements.
“In some cases, other donors or the host government have stepped in to fill gaps that occurred because of a declination of PLGHA,” according to the review. “Only in limited instances has the [U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)] struggled to identify new partners or sub-awardees with comparable skill sets, networks, or capacity for outreach as those who declined the terms of PLGHA.”
The Mexico City Policy – first implemented by President Ronald Reagan at a 1984 conference in Mexico City – prohibited international family planning organizations from receiving federal funds unless they agree not to perform or counsel for abortions or lobby in order to liberalize the pro-life policies of foreign governments. The policy has been on a political seesaw for 36 years. After Reagan’s action, it remained in force until 1993, when President Bill Clinton rescinded it. President George W. Bush reinstated it eight years later, only to see it overturned by President Barack Obama.
When restored by Trump, the rule was extended beyond family planning organizations and funds to all federal agencies and international health aid, as well as to contracts.
The State Department – in collaboration with the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, as well as USAID – issued the review.
The president promised an executive order on the treatment of newborns in a video message to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. He said the directive would “assure that all precious babies born alive, no matter their circumstances, receive the medical care that they deserve. This is our sacrosanct, moral duty,” The text of the order is not yet available.
The ERLC’s Sobolik called the planned order “a positive announcement of administrative policy.” She said in written comments, “Children, born and unborn, deserve the full extent of protection from the law.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, thanked the president “for safeguarding the dignity of the littlest Americans and ensuring their full and equal protection under the law.”
“A growing body of research shows extremely premature babies once written off as hopeless can indeed survive and thrive with active care,” she said in a written statement. “Yet too often, local protocols still allow for infants on the cusp of viability to be denied lifesaving intervention – even over the desperate pleas of their parents.”
Lawmakers, however, must act to accomplish what the executive order is incapable of doing regarding a baby that lives through an attempted abortion, Sobolik said. Congress “still needs to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to ensure that every child, including those who survive attempted abortion, is protected by the law,” she said.
The ERLC has worked for the enactment of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which not only says a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion is a “legal person” deserving protection but mandates a health-care provider give the same degree of care offered “any other baby born alive at the same gestational age.”
The bill has failed to gain congressional passage so far. The Senate fell short in 2019 and February 2020 of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, as the procedural move is known, and proceed to a roll call vote.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)