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Trump Administration Quietly Meets With Anti-Choice Groups Ahead of Lame Duck Session

Katelyn Burns

Anti-choice groups called on the president not to sign any budget containing federal funding for Planned Parenthood or fetal tissue research.

Anti-choice groups met with White House officials on Wednesday to pressure the Trump administration to further restrict reproductive rights during the lame duck session and the next session of the U.S. Congress.

Representatives from the Susan B. Anthony List, Students for Life, National Right to Life, March for Life, and Live Action met with administration officials including White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp, according to Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins. The groups called on the president to not sign any budget containing federal funding for Planned Parenthood or government funding for fetal tissue research, said Hawkins, who attended the meeting.

A Students for Life press release outlined the group’s five demands for Trump: refuse to sign a budget that funds Planned Parenthood; finalize the Title X domestic “gag rule”; continue to appoint anti-choice judges; end funding for fetal tissue research; and “sever the connection between sex education” and abortion care providers through federal funding. Hawkins confirmed to Rewire.News that letters’ requests were shared with the other anti-choice groups participating in the meeting.

The Trump administration has rolled out anti-choice policies throughout its two years in office. These include the global gag rule, which bans U.S. foreign aid from going to international health providers who perform or refer patients for abortions, and several proposed and finalized rules regarding abortion access and birth control. Despite those gains, the anti-choice groups complained at yesterday’s meeting that the administration hasn’t achieved several policy goals quickly enough.

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“It wasn’t a hostile audience today, obviously,” said Hawkins in an interview with Rewire.News. “We did express some disappointment that things haven’t moved faster and that there were things that they’ve promised that they haven’t done yet.”

As an example, Hawkins pointed to the administration’s proposed—but not yet finalized—domestic gag rule, which would force Title X family planning grant recipients to physically and financially separate abortion care from their family planning services. She also cited the long-held anti-choice demand to defund Planned Parenthood, which has been a congressional nonstarter throughout the first two years of the Trump administration.

The groups, Hawkins said, called on the president to take up the issue again when Congress passes its next budget. Funding for the federal government is nearing another critical juncture, with a potential shutdown looming unless Congress and the president reach an agreement before a December 7 deadline.“We expect him not to sign any budget that funds Planned Parenthood, despite whatever Congress passes,” said Hawkins. “It’s up to the president now to keep his promises.”

Schlapp, one of the administration officials who allegedly met with the groups, was an early critic of the president’s stance on abortion during his campaign, before taking her current role at the White House in September 2017. In an August 2015 tweet, she questioned whether Trump would defund Planned Parenthood or ban funding for fetal tissue research.

The groups also pushed for an end to federal funding for fetal tissue research. In September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) canceled its contract with tissue provider Advanced Bioscience Resources, Inc, saying the agency was “not sufficiently assured” that legal protocols for fetal tissue research were being followed. Along with canceling the contract, HHS announced a “comprehensive review” of its policies related to fetal tissue research, specifically to explore potential alternatives for fetal tissue. methods of research. HHS officials recently began meeting with science groups and anti-choice groups to discuss the issue.

According to Hawkins, another concern for the groups was how to handle the upcoming split Congress. “We also want to make sure nothing is walked back,” she said. “We know Democrats, their platform, the [Democratic] National Committee wants to repeal the Hyde amendment, they want to force U.S. taxpayers to fund abortions .… We need the president and Senate to be very clear that that’s not going to happen.”

Meanwhile, Hawkins hopes that greater GOP control of the Senate will continue the rightward shift of the federal judiciary. “We don’t have to worry about Susan Collins and [Lisa] Murkowski in trying to make sure the candidate, whoever is put up for a judicial vacancy, will meet their muster,” she said. “We actually have a pro-life majority in the U.S. Senate and that’s going to be significant because we’re probably going to have one more Supreme [Court nominee] coming in the next year, year and a half, and we have all of these lower court vacancies left to be filled.”

Live Action on Thursday published a press release confirming it had participated in the meeting at the White House and reiterating its view that the administration should act to defund Planned Parenthood.

This is a developing story. Rewire.News will continue to report as more information emerges. 

UPDATE: This story has been updated to clarify a quote from Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins.

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