ERLC's 2019 agenda includes life, religious liberty

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WASHINGTON (BP) -- The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will continue to advocate for the sanctity of human life, religious freedom, the family and justice in its work during 2019 in Washington, D.C.

The ERLC released its annual Legislative Agenda Jan. 16 with the recognition a divided Congress will make its efforts more difficult in at least some policy areas. The Republicans increased their Senate majority by two seats in the November election, while the Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives.

The ERLC's objectives will remain the same in spite of the division, Russell Moore said.

"Each year, our mission and goal is for our legislative priorities to reflect the priorities of consciences transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and informed by the Word of our God," said Moore, the ERLC's president, in a written release.

"Whether it's dealing with issues surrounding religious freedom, human dignity, justice or international engagement, the ERLC exists to serve churches and to stand for the common good for people around the world," he said. "As always, our goal is to remain faithful in our witness and be tireless in our advocacy."

In what he described will be "a year of gridlock," Travis Wussow -- the ERLC's vice president for public policy -- acknowledged, "We're definitely going to have our work cut out for us this year.

"There are definitely some areas where we're going to have to play defense," Wussow said in the Jan. 15 episode of the ERLC's "Capitol Conversations" podcast. "We're going to have to push back on some of the things that are going to be coming at us from the House."

That will be true on the abortion issue in particular. The Democratic majority -- which supports abortion rights and government funding of the procedure -- acted on the first day of the new Congress to repeal a pro-life measure.

The House passed a spending bill Jan. 3 that includes a provision that would rescind the Mexico City policy, which prohibits federal funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas.

In addition, the Senate already has rejected one of the ERLC's pro-life priorities for 2019. On Jan. 17, senators voted 48-47 to bring the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act to the floor for a vote on final passage, but the roll call fell far short of the 60 votes needed to succeed in the procedural move known as invoking cloture.

The bill would establish a permanent, government-wide ban on funds for abortions by standardizing the prohibitions that now exist in various federal programs.

In its agenda, the ERLC said several of its priorities are "long-term initiatives for which we are working to build support. For these kinds of initiatives, our work is focused on incremental progress and maintaining a long-term commitment."

The ERLC's 2019 agenda initiatives include:

-- Approval of the Born-alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would require health care for babies born alive during abortion procedures.

-- Protection of the Hyde Amendment, which has barred Medicaid funding of abortion since 1976 and became the general label for such bans on federal health programs. Congress must pass the Hyde Amendment and similar bans each year as part of spending measures.

-- Defunding Planned Parenthood, the country's No. 1 abortion provider and recipient of $563.8 million in government grants and reimbursements during its most recent financial year.

-- Passage of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, which would bar the government from discriminating against adoption agencies and other child welfare entities that refuse to take part in serving in a way that contradicts their beliefs.

-- Enforcement of rules instituted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to protect the conscience rights of pro-life, health-care workers.

-- Solutions for the opioid epidemic in the United States through engagement with Congress and HHS in such areas as poverty and welfare programs, as well as training for religious communities.

-- Implementation of policies designed to support adoption and foster care.

-- Enactment of legislation to provide a permanent remedy for undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children.

-- Expansion of criminal justice reform to include measures that promote the transformation and rehabilitation of prisoners.

-- Implementation of policies to guarantee aid is delivered to religious minorities and victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria.

-- Promotion of religious freedom initiatives in China and North Korea.

Bipartisan wins in 2018 included reform in the federal criminal justice system and success in fighting online sex trafficking, according to the ERLC.

The ERLC's agenda may be found here.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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