On abortion policy, a tale of two White House transitions

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Pro-abortion rights groups sought massive change in the Barack Obama administration eight years ago. Now, some pro-life advocates see the incoming Trump administration as a major opportunity to advance their cause.

"Donald Trump ran as a pro-life candidate and we absolutely have a blueprint for the pro-life priorities of the Trump Administration," Mallory Quigley, communications director of the Susan B. Anthony List, told CNA Nov. 16.

In September the Republican presidential nominee sent a letter to pro-life leaders. His stated priorities were defunding Planned Parenthood, appointing pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, making permanent the Hyde Amendment restrictions on taxpayer funding for abortion, and ending what Trump called "painful late-term abortions after five months."

"He has surrounded himself with leading pro-life advocates, especially for key roles advising him on domestic policy," said Quigley. "We are working with the transition team and have already been inundated with resumes from longtime pro-life advocates, including women legislators at the state level, seeking to be part of the team and help make President-elect Trump's pro-life commitments a reality."

The Susan B. Anthony List aims to elect pro-life candidates to office. It endorsed President-elect Donald Trump's candidacy. In September, Trump asked the group's executive director Marjorie Dannenfelser to serve as national chair of his campaign's pro-life coalition and on his Catholic advisory board.

The White House transition was much different in 2008 when the president-elect was Barack Obama. A coalition of over 50 pro-abortion rights advocacy groups submitted a lengthy plan to the Obama-Biden White House Transition Project.

The 50-page plan noted vacancies in federal court and "positions of interest" in the federal government where the pro-abortion rights advocates wanted allies to be placed. It named administrative, directorial, and assistant posts within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, and the Department of State, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Equal Opportunity Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission.

The plan listed legislative and policy priorities, some of which were never enacted, on abortion law, conscientious objection, emergency contraception, and other subjects.

One priority was preferred budget language that would end restrictions on abortion funding like the Hyde Amendment. Another priority was an end to the so-called Mexico City Policy that barred U.S. Agency for International Development funds from groups that provide advice, counseling or information about abortion or lobby foreign governments to legalize abortion or make it available.

Other priorities included funding abortions for federal employees and their dependents, for residents of the District of Columbia, Peace Corps volunteers, Native American women, and women in federal prisons.

The plan sought a 133 percent increase in funding for Title X Family Planning Program and $1 billion for international "family planning" programs. It sought total defunding of "abstinence only" sex education in preference to "comprehensive" sex education. It sought restored funding to the United Nations Population Fund, which lost funding under the George W. Bush administration after private and governmental investigations found collaboration with coercive population control programs in China.

Supporters of the plan included NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the American Civil Liberties Union. One of the groups in the coalition was Catholics for Choice, whose claimed Catholic identity has been long rejected by the U.S. bishops.

In December 2008, in the wake of a massive global financial crisis, the Susan B. Anthony List characterized the plan as an "abortion industry bailout."

The group voiced concern that abortion advocates had been appointed to influential positions in the incoming Obama administration. Ellen Moran, the executive director of the pro-abortion rights campaign fundraiser EMILY's List, was named White House Communications Director. NARAL legal director Dawn Johnsen was named to the presidential transition's Justice Department Review Team, though her eventual nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel was withdrawn after years of opposition by some U.S. Senators.

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards served as an informal advisor to the Obama White House transition team.

For the Susan B. Anthony List, the wake of the 2016 election has been much different.

"We're very impressed by the experience and talent on the transition team and feel confident our pro-life priorities are reflected in the agenda," Quigley commented.

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During the presidential campaign, some pro-life leaders voiced strong criticism of Trump as a prospective candidate and president.

Dozens of prominent Catholic leaders released a March letter calling Trump "manifestly unfit to be president of the United States," citing his vulgarity, his "appeals to racial and ethnic fears," and his position on torture. They questioned the authenticity of his commitment to the right to life.

For Quigley, however, the Trump transition was "off to a great start."  

"Now is the time for the pro-life movement to unify and join the effort," she said.

She cited the presence of Vice President-elect Mike Pence on the transition team, describing him as a pro-life ally. She said President-elect Trump "understands the importance of choosing the right personnel."

She pointed to the role of Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus as the president-elect's chief of staff and the role of Rep. Marsha Blackburn(R-Tenn.) as a member of the transition team's executive committee. For Quigley, the unanimous re-election of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as Speaker of the House is "a clear sign that House Republicans are united and ready to enact laws that save lives."

"The Susan B. Anthony List's entire mission is about electing pro-life leaders and then working with them and holding them accountable to the promises they make to their constituents on the campaign trail," she added. "We can't wait to work with our allies in Congress and in the administration to enact lifesaving protections for the unborn."

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