The Trump administration has reportedly hired a lawyer at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who argued a U.S. Supreme Court case against the Obama administration’s birth control benefit, yet another signal that the administration is gearing up to advance a religious imposition agenda.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Matthew Bowman, who previously worked for the anti-choice Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), is now serving in a senior legal position at HHS, where he and others who oppose the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “have a clear path to prosecute their strong belief that birth control coverage should not be a mandate from Washington.”
Though HHS previously declined to clarify Bowman’s role at the agency or confirm his past employment history to Rewire, his LinkedIn profile says he left ADF in January.
Alliance Defending Freedom describes itself as a “non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.” In practice, the group has amassed significant power to push its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ ideology through case litigation, $44 million in grants to other organizations doing similar work, and thousands of lawyers and students trained to impose its agenda across the world.
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In total, the group has more than 3,100 affiliated attorneys and 300 affiliated groups. Its 2015 tax returns claim that it has trained 1,845 attorneys through its academy to bring lawsuits against what it deems to be violations of religious liberties. Another 1,600 people have participated in its Blackstone Legal Fellowship, which trains students to, according to previous tax documents, become a “new generation of lawyers who will rise to positions of influence and leadership as legal scholars, litigators, judges—perhaps even Supreme Court Justices—who will work to ensure that justice is carried out in America’s courtrooms.”
A 2014 investigation by Rewire using public documents, online profiles, and public records requests found that alumni of the Blackstone program have already “risen to positions of influence in state and federal courts, federal government agencies, and congressional committees and offices, as well as positions at the United Nations and other intergovernmental agencies.”
While with the organization, Bowman was “a key member of the Life Litigation Project to protect the sanctity of human life,” according to his since-deleted staff biography. He also played a major role in litigating some of ADF’s most prominent religious imposition cases.
Bowman was a member of ADF’s legal team representing cabinet manufacturer Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. in a Supreme Court case against HHS over the ACA’s birth control benefit. The Court heard the case in a 2014 hearing alongside the landmark Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, as both the craft store and Conestoga argued that providing health insurance coverage for some kinds of contraception violated their religious beliefs.
When speaking about the birth control benefit, Bowman repeatedly promoted the false claim that intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptives cause abortions. His distaste for ensuring access to contraceptives extended to writing a January 2015 post for the conservative site TownHall.com with the headline: “How the contraception mandate may spread measles.”
Bowman has also represented fake clinics—commonly referred to as “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs)—which routinely lie to patients to persuade them against having an abortion. In one case, he argued against California’s Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, a law requiring CPCs to provide information about the availability of birth control and abortion services.
During his time at ADF, Bowman was part of a legal team that repeatedly filed complaints with HHS—the very agency under which he is now employed—alleging impediments to religious liberty.
In one October 2014 complaint, the team alleged that California was forcing employers to pay for “elective abortions” in their health insurance plans. ADF argued that doing so violated the federal Weldon Amendment, which protects physicians, hospitals, and insurance plans from repercussions for refusing to pay for, provide, or offer referrals for abortions.
HHS ultimately rejected that complaint.
Bowman is far from the only religious imposition supporter to land a spot at HHS. In addition to HHS Secretary Tom Price himself, ProPublica‘s January list of more than 400 beachhead positions at federal agencies selected by the Trump administration mentioned several notable figures, including other lawyers who have argued against the birth control benefit and a former lobbyist who also worked on conscience protections in Congress.