Other Culture + Society Topics:


The Issue

Since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the pro-life movement has worked tirelessly to reorient the hearts and minds of an entire generation toward the dignity and worth of every individual—born and unborn. As a result, many more Americans now identify as “pro-life,” including majorities in the millennial generation, and the vast majority of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in most circumstances in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

State legislation has reacted to the trend of recognizing the dignity of children and the mothers who carry them. More than 200 pro-life laws have been passed in states across the country since 2010, including parental notification, informed consent, and abortion clinic regulation legislation. Thousands of community-based pregnancy resource centers have harnessed the best of the power and spirit of civil society, providing compassionate counseling, holistic support, and accurate information to women facing unplanned pregnancies.

Yet the challenges to life, conscience, and freedom that inevitably stem from sanctioned abortion-on-demand persist. Policymakers should return to a deeper respect for foundational American principles by respecting the freedom of conscience of individuals, medical providers, and taxpayers, and ensuring the basic rights of liberty and life for everyone, including those yet to be born.

Respect for the dignity of life also requires resisting the recent push for widespread acceptance of physician-assisted suicide (PAS). Policymakers must realize those who are suffering need true compassion and solidarity and that doctors should help their patients to die a dignified death of natural causes, not assist in killing. Rather than allow the government to decide whose life is unworthy of life, policymakers should respect the intrinsic dignity of every human life and thus provide for the equal protection in law of all human beings.


Eliminate Taxpayer Funding of Elective Abortion Here and Abroad. There is long-standing, broad consensus that federal taxpayer funds should not be used for elective abortions or for health insurance that includes abortion coverage. Policymakers should close the patchwork of federal prohibitions on abortion funding by making policies like the Hyde Amendment permanent across federal law. Lawmakers should likewise end the uncertainty over the Mexico City policy, which prohibits federal aid to international abortion providers, and enact permanent prohibitions on taxpayer funding of overseas abortions.

Redirect Federal Funding of Planned Parenthood to Health Centers not Involved in Abortion. During the 2013–2014 reporting year alone, Planned Parenthood affiliates performed over 327,000 abortions while the national organization reported $127 million in revenue over expenses and held $1.4 billion in net assets. During this same year, Planned Parenthood reports its affiliates receiving over $528 million in government funding—41 percent of the organization’s total revenue. In addition to its provision of abortion services, Planned Parenthood affiliates face accusations of waste, abuse, and potential fraud with taxpayer dollars, failure to report the sexual abuse of minor girls, and allegations of profiting from the sale of organs from aborted babies. Policymakers should end taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and all other abortion providers, and redirect funding to health centers that provide health care for women without entanglement in abortion.

Stop Obamacare’s Expansion of Funding for Abortion Coverage. Under Obamacare, federal tax subsidies are available for health plans offered on state exchanges that include coverage of elective abortion. Some Americans could pay an abortion surcharge of up to $12 per year out of their own pockets, possibly without their knowledge. Moreover, every individual and family that obtains qualified health insurance from a state exchange or their employer will be enrolled in coverage of abortion-inducing drugs and contraception—whether they want such coverage or not. In addition, almost all employers, including many religious nonprofits, must participate in the processes requiring coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization under Obamacare, regardless of any religious or moral objections. Policymakers should enact permanent protections for the rights of individuals, religious organizations, and family businesses to keep them from being forced to enroll in or pay for coverage of life-ending drugs and devices that violate their deeply held beliefs. To truly protect conscience rights and prevent federal dollars from flowing to elective abortion coverage, Obamacare needs to be repealed.

Protect Conscience of Doctors, Nurses, and Other Medical Practitioners. Obamacare’s loose conscience protections, combined with inadequate guidance on conscience rights, may leave pro-life medical professionals with only limited protection to practice medicine according to their religious principles. Policymakers should codify protections for the conscience rights of health care insurers, providers, and medical personnel who decline to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.

Resist the Push for Physician-Assisted Suicide. In October 2015, California became the fifth state to legalize PAS. Yet legalizing physician-assisted suicide is a grave mistake that endangers the weak and vulnerable, corrupts the practice of medicine and the doctor-patient relationship, compromises the family and intergenerational commitments, and betrays human dignity and equality before the law. The experience of countries with physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia suggests that safeguards intended to limit PAS eligibility to the terminally ill or to certify autonomous consent often fail to ensure effective control. Instead of embracing PAS, policymakers should focus on the benefits of palliative care, which works to improve a patient’s quality of life by alleviating pain and other distressing symptoms of a serious illness.

Facts and Figures

  • Since the Supreme Court’s decisions legalizing abortion-on-demand in 1973, more than 56 million children have lost their lives to abortion. Today, roughly 1 million abortions occur in the U.S. every year.
  • Two-thirds of Americans oppose late-term abortion, including 60 percent of women who generally oppose abortion after 20 weeks, when a child can feel pain and a mother is at increased risk of abortion’s harms.
  • In one year, Planned Parenthood performed over 327,000 abortions while receiving over half a billion dollars in taxpayer funding. As the largest abortion provider in the nation, the group was responsible for almost 1 million abortions in its past three reporting years alone.
  • The United States sends tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to the United Nations Population Fund every year despite continued assertions that the organization has been involved in China’s family planning program, which uses forced abortions to enforce the country’s policy limiting parents to two children.
  • Individuals who enroll in federally subsidized health insurance under Obamacare will pay an additional, all-but-invisible premium solely to cover the costs of elective abortion procedures.

Selected Additional Resources

Ryan T. Anderson, “Always Care, Never Kill: How Physician-Assisted Suicide Endangers the Weak, Corrupts Medicine, Compromises the Family, and Violates Human Dignity and Equality,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3004, March 24, 2015.

Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George, “Government Should Not Fund Organizations that Kill Innocent Human Beings,Harvard Health Policy Review Online, November 3, 2015.

Chuck Donovan, “Obamacare and the Ethics of Life: Weakening Medical Conscience and the Protection of Life,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3106, January 19, 2011.

Jamie Bryan Hall and Roger T. Severino, “Disentangling the Data on Planned Parenthood Affiliates’ Abortion Services and Receipt of Taxpayer Funding,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4467, September 30, 2015.

Thomas M. Messner, “From Culture Wars to Conscience Wars: Emerging Threats to Conscience,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2543, April 13, 2011.

Sarah Torre, “Abortion: U.S. Taxpayers Fund It Here and Abroad,” Daily Signal, January 23, 2013.

Sarah Torre, “Congress Should End Federal Funding to Planned Parenthood and Redirect It Toward Other Health Care Options,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4462, September 22,2015.

Sarah Torre, “Obamacare’s Many Loopholes: Forcing Individuals and Taxpayers to Fund Elective Abortion Coverage,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2872, January 13, 2014.