President Trump Considering Executive Order Protecting Conscience Rights of Pro-Life Groups

National   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Feb 2, 2017   |   3:51PM   |   Washington, DC

A leaked draft of an executive order from the White House this week could increase religious freedom and conscience protections for individuals and groups that oppose abortion.

The Nation, which obtained the draft document in connection with The Investigative Fund, reports President Donald Trump appears to be considering an executive order that would create broad religious freedom exceptions to current laws, including the Affordable Care Act.

“Americans and their religious organizations will not be coerced by the Federal Government into participating in activities that violate their conscience,” the document states.

The draft executive order, “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” would protect religious freedom for “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations … when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”

The issues addressed in the document include abortion, contraception, premarital sex, marriage and LGBTQ issues, according to the report.

Notably, the draft document also mentions that it would protect the tax-exempt status of groups that believe life begins at conception. It specifically mentions this in a section about protecting the tax-exempt status of religious organizations, according to the report.

It would protect any organization that “believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that … human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.”

That a unique, new human life begins at conception is more than just a belief. Medical textbooks, doctors and even some abortion activists agree that the science is clear: Life does begin at conception.

The draft order also would have the Secretary of Health and Human Services take action to ensure that people buying health insurance through the Affordable Care Act have access to plans that do not cover abortion and do not subsidize plans that do.

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When asked about the draft executive order, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters he could not comment.

“I’m not getting ahead of the executive orders that we may or may not issue,” Spicer said.

According to The Nation, a pro-abortion blog, some legal scholars are doubtful that the executive order, if enacted as is, would be legal.

Here’s more from the report:

“This executive order would appear to require agencies to provide extensive exemptions from a staggering number of federal laws—without regard to whether such laws substantially burden religious exercise,” said Marty Lederman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and an expert on church-state separation and religious freedom.

The exemptions, Lederman said, could themselves violate federal law or license individuals and private parties to violate federal law. “Moreover,” he added, “the exemptions would raise serious First Amendment questions, as well, because they would go far beyond what the Supreme Court has identified as the limits of permissive religious accommodations.” It would be “astonishing,” he said, “if the Office of Legal Counsel certifies the legality of this blunderbuss order.”

In the past eight years under President Barack Obama’s administration, pro-life organizations and religious groups have faced on-going discrimination.

In 2013, news broke that the IRS was discriminating against conservative and religious groups.

Then, under the onerous HHS Mandate, religious business owners with Hobby Lobby and religious organizations such as Little Sisters of the Poor were forced to cover contraception and drugs/devices that may cause abortions in their employee health plans, against their religious beliefs. The U.S. Supreme Court later granted relief to both groups.

And in 2016, the Obama administration refused to stop California from forcing churches to pay for abortions in violation of federal law. In 2014, the California Department of Managed Health Care reclassified abortion as a “basic health service” under the Affordable Care Act and ordered all insurance plans in the state to begin covering surgical abortions immediately. Even churches are not exempt from funding abortions.

The draft executive order is a sign that the Trump administration is working to reverse this past discrimination and restore religious and conscience protections.

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