Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: January 24, 2020

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Happy 47th anniversary, Roe v. Wade!

On January 22, NCJW honored the 47th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which cemented the constitutional right to abortion. NCJW CEO Sheila Katz discussed reproductive health, rights, and justice (among many other important topics) with Supermajority co-founder Cecile Richards on Facebook Live. We also joined the Center for Reproductive Rights and other partners in a tweet chat, answering questions about Roe and the upcoming June Medical Services v. Gee. However, as Sheila so aptly noted in a new op-ed, NCJW also recognizes that the fight for bodily autonomy is far from over. For many, the promise of Roe has never been a reality because legal rights mean nothing without access and anti-abortion extremists have worked to restrict access in every way imaginable. For instance, we marked the anniversary of the Global Gag Rule on January 23; this is just one of the Trump administration’s innumerable anti-abortion policies, blocking US funds from foreign organizations that provide abortion services, referrals, or information or that advocate for abortion access in their own countries.

As Trump is set to become the first president to attend the annual March for Life on January 24, we urge you to continue taking action to honor Roe and to build on the legacy of this landmark case:

  1. Urge your lawmakers to eliminate medically unnecessary abortion restrictions by cosponsoring the Women’s Health Protection Act (HR 2975/S 1645).
  2. Tell your lawmakers to secure insurance coverage of abortion for all by cosponsoring the EACH Woman Act (HR 1692/S 758).
  3. Call your senators and tell them to oppose Cory Wilson and Andrew Brasher, two more anti-abortion extremists nominated to lifetime seats on the federal judiciary.
  4. Join the #MyRightMyDecision campaign to stay up to date on the latest news surrounding June Medical Services v. Gee.
  5. Say the word abortion. Talk about this with your friends, colleagues, or families. We must take away the stigma in talking about our support for a person’s right to make decisions about their own body. 

Trump administration approves backdoor strategy to defund Planned Parenthood

On January 22, the Trump administration restored federal funding for Texas’ Medicaid family planning program that bars patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood and other sexual and reproductive health care providers that also promote or provide abortion. This is the first time that the federal government has allowed a state to explicitly waive Medicaid’s free choice of provider requirement for family planning provision. Notably, both South Carolina and Tennessee have applied to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for similar waivers that would oust abortion providers from their entire state Medicaid programs, not just the family planning portions. NCJW strongly opposes this decision, which overturns longstanding federal law and sets a dangerous precedent enabling other states to pursue their own assaults on health care access.

Federal Courts

SCOTUS adds contraception rules case to blockbuster term

On January 17, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear a case surrounding the Trump administration’s rules decimating the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control benefit this term. In October 2017, the administration issued an interim final rule dramatically expanding which employers can be exempted from covering free contraception as part of health insurance without providing an opportunity for public notice and comment. This move was swiftly blocked by the courts. However, after receiving over 100,000 public comments, the administration issued another nearly identical rule in November 2018. Once again, multiple federal courts blocked implementation of this rule, a decision that was upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2019 and by the Ninth Circuit in October 2019. Now, the Supreme Court will decide whether these decisions should be overturned and whether the rules can be implemented. NCJW has worked to improve access to birth control for decades and will watch this case closely, remaining vigilant to preserve the gains made by the ACA.

SCOTUS declines to expedite review of ACA case

On January 21, the Supreme Court announced that it would not expedite consideration of a petition challenging the Fifth Circuit’s recent decision declaring the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate unconstitutional. Ultimately, this means that the Court will not decide the fate of the ACA this term, potentially leaving millions of Americans and the entire health care system in a state of uncertainty for another three years as the case returns to the lower courts. The ACA is a critical source of health care coverage for America’s historically underserved communities including individuals and families living in poverty, people of color, women, immigrants, LGBTQI individuals, individuals with disabilities, seniors, and individuals with limited English proficiency. NCJW was proud to play a role in the enactment of the ACA and hopes that the Court will decide to hear the case and uphold this critical legislation in the fall.

SCOTUS hears oral arguments in religious liberty case

On January 22, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case that NCJW is watching involving public funding for religious schools. In 2015, Montana legislators enacted a tax-credit scholarship program that provides funding for low-income families to send their children to private schools. Because Montana’s state constitution prohibits “direct or indirect” public funding of religiously affiliated educational programs, the state subsequently promulgated an administrative rule prohibiting scholarship recipients from using their funding at religious schools. Several parents, including Espinoza, who wanted to use the scholarship funding for private religious school, filed a lawsuit challenging the exclusion of religious school funding. The Montana Supreme Court found that the scholarship program was constitutional so long as students could not use the financial aid for religious schools, and the parents appealed. The Supreme Court will determine whether it violates the religion clauses or the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution to invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student-aid program because the program affords students the choice of attending religious schools. During oral arguments, the Supreme Court Justices seemed largely split; several of the justices, including Chief Justice Roberts, questioned whether Espinoza and the other parents even had standing to bring the case, given that any potential harm would be suffered by the schools, not the parents of students. NCJW opposes school voucher programs that funnel taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious organizations, or schools with discriminatory policies toward students, teachers, and other school personnel. To that end, NCJW joined an amicus brief arguing that tuition tax credits should not be used to fund religious education.

Immigration and Refugees

Two anniversaries and an expanded Muslim Ban

The next week marks the anniversary of two harmful Trump administration policies targeting immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. January 25 is the one-year anniversary of ‘Remain in Mexico,’ officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Remain in Mexico forces asylum seekers from Central America to wait in Mexico during their asylum proceedings. More than 57,000 people have been forced to wait in Mexico, despite overwhelming evidence that this policy has resulted in at best barriers to legal representation and at worst kidnappings, torture, trafficking, and sexual assaults. Immigrant advocates have sued to halt this harmful policy, but in May 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it could proceed while the case plays out.

January 27 marks the third anniversary of the Muslim Ban, a policy pushed hard by White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller and implemented by President Trump just days after taking office. The current iteration of the ban was upheld by the US Supreme Court and bars immigrants and visitors from six countries, five of which are Muslim majority, from entering the US. The ban has separated tens of thousands of families since its inception.

President Trump confirmed plans this week to expand the Muslim Ban, and the announcement is expected on Monday, the anniversary. The list of countries has not been released, but many/most are expected to once again be majority-Muslim. The NO BAN Act (HR 2214/S 1123), a priority bill for NCJW, would rescind the Muslim Ban and prevent similar bans — like the one expected next week — in the future. NCJW believes it’s critical for Congress to pass the NO BAN Act as soon as possible.

New rule targeting immigrant women and girls

This week, the State Department issued a rule allowing consular officials to bar women and girls from visiting the United States if they believe they are pregnant and likely or planning to give birth in the US. Officials said “visual cues” like “appearing to be pregnant” would be enough to trigger questioning and ultimately barring entry. The rule is an attempt to address a long-time boogeyman of anti-immigrant conservatives, birthright citizenship. The regulation requires profiling women and girls based on their size and is both a guise to bar the entry of foreign nationals and yet another way in which the administration polices the bodies of women, girls, and people who can become pregnant. NCJW is disgusted by this latest anti-immigrant policy and affirms that all people have the right to move freely regardless of whether or not they are pregnant.

TPS for Somalia extended

On January 17, the administration extended, but did not re-designate, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Somalia for 18 months. TPS allows immigrants from countries facing war or natural disaster to live and work legally in the United States. Extending TPS for Somalia protects about 500 people from deportation but does nothing to help other Somalis who have arrived in the US since 2012. NCJW joined other faith organizations to urge the administration to both extend and re-designate TPS for Somalia.

Sign on Letters

  • On January 21, NCJW joined 90 organizations on a letter demanding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) release all transgender immigrants from detention. 

Amicus Briefs

  • NCJW joined organizations on an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in US v. Sineneng-Smith, a case before the US Supreme Court that will decide whether helping migrants come to the US illegally — in some cases — is protected by free speech.

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