Other Defending Faith and Family Topics:


The Issue

Since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions, the pro-life movement has worked tirelessly to re-orient 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,” 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 300 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 that 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. Policymakers should respect the intrinsic dignity of every human life and thus enshrine equal protection for all human beings in law.


Eliminate Taxpayer Funding for 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 executive order (now referred to as the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance plan), which prohibits federal aid to international organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas. Because that policy has been susceptible to each Administration’s changing favor, Congress should enact permanent prohibitions on taxpayer funding of international abortion activity.

Redirect Federal Funding of Planned Parenthood to Health Centers Not Involved in Abortion. During the 2015–2016 reporting year alone, Planned Parenthood affiliates performed more than 328,000 abortions, while the national organization reported over $59 million in excess revenue and held nearly $1.4 billion in net assets. During this same year, Planned Parenthood reports that its affiliates received over $554 million in government funding—41 percent of the organization’s total revenue. 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.

Pass Pro-Life Legislation at the Federal Level. Congress should pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect women and unborn children from gruesome late-term abortions performed after 20 weeks. At the state level, over a dozen states across the country have enacted 20-week bills, and Congress is overdue to pass the bill at the federal level. Additionally, Congress should pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. Treating a baby who is born alive after a failed abortion with the same care that any other newborn baby would receive should not be a matter of controversy. Congress should also pass the Dismemberment Abortion Ban Act, which prohibits an abortionist from dismembering a living unborn child in utero and extracting the baby’s body parts one piece at a time.

Stop Obamacare’s Expansion of Funding for Abortion Coverage. Obamacare made federal tax subsidies available for health care plans and contained other policies that resulted in greater taxpayer funding of abortion. In addition, Obamacare required almost all employers, including many religious nonprofits, to cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization regardless of any religious or moral objections. Congress should repeal these policies and enact health care reforms that protect life and conscience and do not subsidize abortion or abortion providers. 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.

Protect Conscience Rights of Doctors, Nurses, and Other Medical Practitioners. Pro-life medical professionals have only limited protection to practice medicine according to their religious principles. Policymakers should codify protections for the conscience rights of health care providers, insurers, and medical personnel who decline to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or make referrals for abortions.

Resist the Push for Physician-Assisted Suicide. In the past two decades, there have been over 100 legislative proposals across the country to allow PAS. In the last year alone, California, Colorado, and the District of Columbia have legalized it. Legalizing PAS 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 PAS 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

FACT: Legalized abortion on demand has had a devastating impact on mothers, fathers, and their unborn babies. Policymakers should respect innocent human life from conception to natural death.

  • Since the Supreme Court’s decisions legalizing abortion on demand in 1973, more than 59 million humans have lost their lives to abortion. Today, nearly 1 million abortions occur in the U.S. every year.
  • A strong majority of Americans oppose late-term abortion, including over 60 percent of women who generally oppose abortion after 20 weeks, when a baby can feel pain and a mother is at increased risk of abortion’s harmful side effects.
  • In the 2015–2016 reporting year, Planned Parenthood performed more than 328,000 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.

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, May 21, 2016.

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 Severino, “Disentangling the Data on Planned Parenthood Affiliates’ Abortion Services and Receipt of Taxpayer Funding,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4467, September 30, 2015.

Melanie Israel, “Defending Life: Opportunities for the 115th Congress,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4656, February 23, 2017.

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,” The 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.