David Christensen, Vice President for Government Affairs with the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. discusses a number of pro-life initiatives that are making their way through the U.S. Congress and the Executive Branch in our nation’s capitol.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Today we will be discussing a number of pro-life initiatives that are active and making their way through the U.S. Congress and the Executive Branch in our nation’s capitol. Our guest today is David Christensen, Vice President for Government Affairs with the Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C. David oversees FRC’s work on life, marriage, religious freedom and many other issues and he is a great friend and ally of the North Carolina Family Policy. David, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show!
DAVID CHRISTENSEN: Hey, thanks for having me on! Great to be with you.
JOHN RUSTIN: David, I know Congress is working on another attempt at some variation of a bill to repeal and replace “Obamacare.” What is the status of this legislation and what can we expect to see as this bill begins to make its way through Congress?
DAVID CHRISTENSEN: Great question. The Senate Republicans are working right now to analyze the house-passed bill. That is a complicated bill. The gist of it is, if it passes, what essentially passes is what already passed in 2015—which President Obama vetoed—by repealing a lot of the guts out of Obamacare: individual mandate, employer mandate, a lot of the tax penalties in there as well, and thankfully at the time, defunded Planned Parenthood. The House passed those similar provisions. The tricky part is how to replace it. And so the House passed a bill that has tax credits for people based on age, block grants, the Medicaid program, which would do two things: One is it would save a lot of federal taxpayer dollars. And number two would give states more flexibility on how to run their Medicaid program for low-income individuals. It had some other provisions as well. We worked hard to make sure the new funding streams in the bill had pro-life funding restrictions on it. We wanted to make sure that the Republicans aren’t going to fund abortion, which was one of the major problems with Obamacare. The Senate is going to be tough. Senator Burr actually said—I believe yesterday, it was in the news this morning—he doesn’t even think they’re going to get a deal on a bill. So, there’s some skepticism between the conservative and some of the more moderate Republicans over how to deal with Medicaid expansion, how to deal with the tax credits. Should they be age-based? Should they be low-income based the way the Obama premium credits were? Obviously, you’ve got a couple of Republicans who don’t want to see Planned Parenthood defunded. Thankfully, we have 50 Republicans that have voted for that already this year, or I should say, a similar provision related to states’ abilities to defund Planned Parenthood. But you know, this is a complicated issue. I think it’s pretty clear right now that the Senate Republicans want something different than what the House passed. And there’s a lot of technical, budgetary procedural hurdles they have to get through to get this passed by only 51 votes. Most legislation requires 60 votes. Budget-related provisions can pass with 51 votes so long as the provisions are budgetary. So, there’s a lot of conversations going on and, of course, the Left is just hammering everything. They know that there’s a chance that this could pass, President Trump could sign it, and it could undo Obama’s legacy. And so that’s kind of just an overview of some of the policy and political implications right now. But I’m guessing that in the next several weeks is where the pressure from Conservatives on the senators needs to ramp up. That’s gonna be important for them to hear from Conservatives because, frankly, they’re hearing from a lot of Liberals, George Soros-funded groups, Planned Parenthood, are desperate to kill this bill. So, it’s important that all of our voices are heard.
JOHN RUSTIN: David, at the end of May, the Department of Health and Human Services released a draft regulation that seemed to respond, at least in part, to the President’s Executive Order, which directed Executive Branch agencies to respect and protect Americans’ religious liberty rights, including those rights as it relates to the healthcare arena. What do we know about that draft regulation as it stands now and the status of it?
DAVID CHRISTENSEN: We know that the regulation had gone through the formal vetting process at HHS and then was sent off over to the Office of Management and Budget—They’re sort of the government’s budget arm that actually has to assess all regulations. And, as you know, there was a draft that was leaked out. The draft that we read was really strong in protecting the rights of for-profit or non-profit entities who have moral or religious convictions against paying for certain kinds of contraceptives in their health coverage— not to do so. And for those entities who have no problem doing that, they would leave the contraception mandate in place. Of course, the Left has gone apoplectic over this, saying that all women are going to lose their contraceptive health insurance coverage, etc., which is entirely untrue and sort of misleads the fact that what you have is an Obama-era regulation that was forcing people like the Little Sisters of the Poor, Wheaton College, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, hundreds and hundreds of religiously-affiliated non-profits, requiring them essentially to be the gateway to providing objectionable drugs and devices in their health plan and facing penalties—and those penalties were severe, upwards of 100 dollars per day per employee! So, if you had 100 employees, in a year, you could pay over three million dollars worth of fines. That risks jobs, etc. So with this regulation—and what we believe the administration is looking to do—is to alleviate that for those who frankly just have moral objections to being punished by the government for disagreeing with them.
JOHN RUSTIN: David, also in addition to the executive order on religious liberty that President Trump issued several weeks ago, soon after his inauguration, the President also quickly reinstated, and even expanded, the Mexico City Policy. Tell us about this policy and the modifications that President Trump made to it?
DAVID CHRISTENSEN: That’s a great point. That was a significant action that President Trump took. They call it the Mexico City Policy because Ronald Reagan was in Mexico City at the time. He signed an executive order that barred US funding of international non-profit NGOs who participate or perform abortion. If we’re going to provide grants to organizations to help us with family planning overseas and that type of thing, we shouldn’t be paying Marie Stopes International, or International Planned Parenthood who promote and perform, often, abortion. So President Trump restored it and expanded it, not only to cover the roughly $570 million a year on family planning we spend for overseas family planning services, he expanded it to include all global health funding. And we’re talking about $8 billion annually. So, that’s a huge expansion of the pro-life idea that we should not be using tax dollars to promote and advocate or help entities that are, you know, paying or participating in abortion. The Left would say we don’t use federal dollars for—we wouldn’t use those tax dollars to kill the babies, right? But we know money is fungible. The point is our dollars should go to help people in need for global health, whether it’s under HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, whether it’s other healthcare needs, whether it’s even family planning, it should not be going and directing abortion promotion. And so, this president signed that into law and obviously got a lot of blowback. But that was significant redirection of funds to do what they’re supposed to do, which is to help people, not kill them.
JOHN RUSTIN: Speaking of killing them, Planned Parenthood just released its annual report showing, once again, an increase in the number of abortions it performed, as well as—and get this—a $77 million profit, despite a reduction in the variety and quantity of non-abortion services it provides! David, what is the current status of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and is there any hope that Congress will finally defund this baby-killing industry of our federal tax dollars?
DAVID CHRISTENSEN: Great question, and the answer is right now we continue to see over 400 and I believe it’s over $450 million a year of federal taxpayers money going to Planned Parenthood, and that’s through multiple different programs—a lot of it is Medicaid dollars. People don’t realize that. And so, we’re spending a lot of money on Planned Parenthood and they’re tapping into all kinds of government programs to get tax dollars. The House Healthcare bill would defund them in Medicaid and those mandatory programs. And we are working really hard to make sure that the Senate bill, as it moves, continues to maintain that. There is some discretionary funding that is not captured by that bill, but over 86 percent of federal funding for Planned Parenthood would be rescinded for Planned Parenthood. So, you know, it’s incredible how much money that they have. They’re over a billion dollar a year organization. They’re getting huge amounts of money of hard-working Americans. And frankly, if they want to continue to do abortion, then we shouldn’t be paying for it.
JOHN RUSTIN: Exactly! And in recent weeks, a new undercover video has again exposed the abortion industries’ calloused attitude toward unborn children and its alleged trafficking of body parts of aborted babies. What is being done at the federal level, David, to put a stop to this vile practice?
DAVID CHRISTENSEN: Great question. The Select Panel On Infant Lives resolved its investigation last year of Planned Parenthood and made 15 criminal referrals to the Department of Justice to investigate Planned Parenthood. And the Senate Judiciary Committee also made 7 criminal referrals and sent that to the Department of Justice. A number of groups—FRC, March for Life, Susan B. Anthony List, a number of groups—signed a letter recently to Attorney General Sessions asking them to investigate these criminal referrals. The Left […] love Planned Parenthood and they love Cecile Richards and they’re fighting tooth and nail to stop that but the Daleiden videos continue to show the utter callousness toward not only the unborn child but toward women. We’re talking about changing the potential method of which the baby would be in the womb in order to try to better target certain kinds of body parts. That’s a violation of federal law and the seller makes profits on this. So, we think justice needs to be pursued and justice needs to be pursued to its conclusion. And we’re optimistic. Obviously, there’s some legislation that’s been introduced to increase the ban and clarify the federal law on what’s called “valuable consideration.” You’re not supposed to do an abortion for “valuable consideration,” which is a little loosey-goosey. And to clarify that, we shouldn’t be funding it at all for research or transportation. Representative Leutkemeyer has a bill on those lines. So, we’ve generating support for that. So, it’s kind of a two-prong strategy. We need the Department of Justice to continue its investigation. We need Congress to start to weigh in with legislation.
JOHN RUSTIN: David, we have covered a lot of ground but are nearly out of time for this week. Where can our listeners go to learn more about the policies that we have discussed and how they can make a positive impact on these important pro-life matters?
DAVID CHRISTENSEN: You can always check in on FRC’s website, frc.org, the Family Research Council and look up our alerts and look up our information on policies and learn more about what’s going on here at the federal level.
JOHN RUSTIN: Great! We definitely want to encourage our listeners to take advantage of that. And many, I’m sure, already have the frc.org bookmarked on their browsers so that they have quick access to that. But if you don’t, listeners, please make sure you do that as you have done with the North Carolina Family Policy Council at ncfamily.org. We work very closely and hand-in-hand with the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., and are so appreciative, David, of your great work and all of the efforts that Family Research Council makes on our behalf to protect and promote the sanctity of human life, religious liberty, and family values in our nation’s capital. And with that, David Christenson, I want to thank you for your time and wish God’s richest blessings on you, on your family, and on all your efforts at FRC to promote and defend the sanctity of life, religious liberty and these other issues that we care so deeply about.
DAVID CHRISTENSEN: John, you’re gracious and we really appreciate the work that you do and you having a voice for the voiceless so often and persevering in everything that you’re doing as well.
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