NOW President Toni Van Pelt recently sent a blunt letter to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Acting Secretary Eric Hargan concerning the use of the term “life from conception” in an extensive draft plan that is to guide HHS policies for the next four years. Van Pelt expressed alarm that officials in the department are advancing a conservative religious viewpoint about when ‘life begins’ that will undermine sound health care policies and practices for millions of women and their families.
Writing on behalf of NOW’s hundreds of thousands of members and contributing supporters, Van Pelt objected by stating that the notion of “‘life begins at conception’ is not an evidence-based theory, but a religious one…”
Van Pelt added, “We cannot believe anything other than the inclusion of such language in the HHS Strategic Plan is a stealth initiative to advance a policy that would ultimately deny women contraception and abortion care in all instances.”
‘Life from conception’ and the ‘unborn’ are terms commonly used by certain religious groups and incorporating them in federal policy or law would be contrary to the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise of the Clause Constitution.
Elevating a fertilized egg to equal status with a pregnant woman can result in a conflict that would mean dire consequences for the health and life of the woman.
In the letter to the HHS Acting Secretary, Van Pelt demanded of the HHS Draft Strategic Plan that, “All policies referencing to life beginning at conception must be deleted and all proposed policies that elevate religious beliefs over patient health care needs must be eliminated.”
Clearly, this is a major step for the Trump Administration to severely restrict women’s access to vital health care services, ultimately aimed at a Supreme Court ruling that would make accessing abortion care nearly impossible. His nomination and the Senate’s confirmation of the ultra-conservative opponent of abortion rights, Neil Gorsuch, to the Supreme Court secured what could well be the fifth vote to greatly narrow or overturn those rights.
Van Pelt went on to say, “The heavy hand of Catholic bishops and their fundamentalist allies shows up in this critical document and we see similar efforts elsewhere. The House Republican tax plan gives fetuses federal benefits – plainly an attempt to codify in federal law the view that life begins at fertilization. This has to stop.”