Policy Updates

On the Hill Update: December 11, 2020

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

House committee considers the impact of abortion coverage restrictions.

On December 8, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies held a virtual hearing on “The Impact on Women Seeking an Abortion but are Denied Because of an Inability to Pay.” The hearing, which you can watch here, investigated the effects of coverage bans like the Hyde Amendment, which has long blocked those enrolled in federal health programs from using their insurance to pay for abortion care. Expert witnesses Dr. Herminia Palacio (Guttmacher Institute), Dr. Jamila Perritt (Physicians for Reproductive Health), and Amanda Beatriz Williams (Lilith Fund) explained that this policy disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and is a painful example of how systemic racism permeates our federal laws and regulations. On the other hand, the opposition witness, Christina Bennett (Family Institute of Connecticut), and lawmakers intended to spread harmful rhetoric and misinformation about abortion. As a reminder, abortion is safe — safer than getting your wisdom teeth out and safer when performed early — and so-called “pregnancy resource centers” are better known as fake clinics that use misleading language, websites, and signage to deceive pregnant people. NCJW was proud to lead a letter from 60 religiously-affiliated and values-based organizations, including 27 NCJW sections, calling on Congress to pass the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act (HR 1692/S 758) to end Hyde and related restrictions permanently and to prohibit political interference in private insurance coverage of abortion.

Federal Courts

#CourtsMatter to immigration

On December 4, two consequential court decisions pertaining to immigration were issued. In El Paso County v. Trump, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that President Trump could redirect $3.6 billion in military funds to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. The court concluded that those challenging the policy were not able to prove that they were sufficiently harmed and, therefore, had no legal standing to sue, overturning an earlier decision finding that Trump broke the law by declaring a national emergency to redirect military money after Congress specifically refused to pay for the wall construction. This term, the Supreme Court will hear a related case, Trump v. Sierra Club, brought by the administration after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that the transfer of funds was illegal. NCJW watches this case closely and believes that diverting funds for an unnecessary border wall earmarked for other efforts is shortsighted, misguided, and no substitution for humane immigration and refugee policy.

In much better news, the District Court for the Eastern District of New York finally ordered the Trump administration to fully reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program following a lengthy legal battle. In June, the Supreme Court held that the process through which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) attempted to end the program — which allows nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children to live and work here — was illegal. However, this incomplete victory did not prevent the administration from ending the program through other means as Chad Wolf, the Undersecretary of DHS’s Office for Strategy, Policy, and Plans, issued a July memo directing personnel “to take all appropriate actions to reject all pending and future initial requests for DACA.” While President Trump named Wolf Acting DHS Secretary in November 2019, the Eastern District for New York held that he was not lawfully serving in this role under the Homeland Security Act and, as such, lacked the authority to make changes to DACA, rendering the memo legally void. While the program’s future remains uncertain, this ruling will protect thousands of people from deportation by forcing the administration to accept applications from new potential recipients (also known as Dreamers). NCJW celebrates this decision and supports the DREAM and Promise Act (HR 6) to provide Dreamers with a permanent citizenship path.

Victory for transgender advocates as SCOTUS rejects bathroom case.

On December 7, the Supreme Court decided not to hear a case aimed at ending an Oregon school district’s policy of allowing transgender students to use facilities that match their gender identity. Parents for Privacy, a group of students and parents, argued that the district’s “Student Safety Plan” violates the privacy rights of cisgender parents and students, as well as Title IX.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit after it found the district’s plan “sought to avoid discrimination and ensure the safety and well-being of transgender students” and “did not violate Title IX.” The Supreme Court’s rejection of the appeal means that this ruling stands, permitting transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms associated with their gender identity. NCJW applauds this decision to protect the civil and human rights of transgender youth.

Senate prioritizes federal judicial nominees over COVID relief.

On December 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nomination of Thomas Kirsch for the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Thomas Kirsch, nominated to fill now Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s seat, is the fifth nominee named by President Trump to the Seventh Circuit, all of whom are white — adding to the dire lack of diversity on our federal circuit courts. Before President Trump’s nomination of Barrett to fill the seat, President Obama had named Myra Selby, the first woman and Black woman on the Indiana Supreme Court, in January 2016. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Selby, keeping the seat open for an eventual President Trump to fill. And Thompson Michael Dietz, nominated to a 15-year appointment to the US Court of Federal Claims, was passed out of committee in October and currently awaits a vote in the full Senate. By his own account, Dietz has not tried a case during his law practice. Notwithstanding the concerning backgrounds of these nominees, it is unprecedented for the Senate to be confirming judges during a lame-duck Congress — it has only happened one time and with bipartisan support. NCJW opposes Kirsch and Dietz. Prioritizing judges over people in the middle of a pandemic is shameful and misguided.

Human Needs

Budget, stimulus talks continue

On December 9, the House passed (343-67) a short-term measure (HR 8900) to keep the government open through December 18. The Senate must pass the bill so the president can sign it into law before midnight on December 11. HR 8900 extends current government funding beyond the deadline of December 11 to give appropriators time to finish both the omnibus spending bill and a COVID relief measure to go along with it. While there is largely agreed on the omnibus spending bill, House and Senate leaders are at odds over COVID relief: from the price tag to Senator McConnell’s insistence on a liability shield for businesses to bipartisan calls for including aid to state and local governments to stimulus checks for individuals to an extension of Unemployment Insurance benefits. As we approach the end of the year, 12 million Americans are expected to lose their unemployment benefits, with even more people impacted by the federal eviction moratorium’s expiration. Because a budget bill must pass, it is now or never to provide real relief before conditions worsen for millions. NCJW supports a package that includes our urgent priorities to protect women, children, and families — especially the Black people disproportionately infected and killed by the virus.

Immigration and Refugees

Trump administration eviscerates asylum protections with final rule

On December 10, the Trump administration finalized regulations marking the most sweeping attack on his presidency’s asylum. The 419-page rule from the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice would once again make it more difficult for asylum seekers to find safety in the United States by (among many harmful provisions) increasing the standard of proof in “credible fear” screenings, summarily dismissing claims of persecution based on gender or sexual orientation, and penalizing an asylum seeker for passing through more than one country on their way to the US. These restrictions are set to take effect on January 11, 2021, just days before the President-elect Joe Biden will assume office, and are certain to face legal challenges. NCJW submitted comments vehemently opposing this proposal and works for comprehensive, humane, and equitable asylum laws, policies, and practices.

Related Resources