The weekly report on US and international public policy
by Edwina Rogers

SPI Invited to Prague Conference On Free Markets And Future Of Humanity

Edwina-Rogers-Prague-Conf02SPI CEO Edwina Rogers was invited to serve on a panel in Prague on April 16 the discuss Secular Stagnation (zero interest rates) and the Future of Humanity with regard to Urbanization. She met with Ambassador Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff, the Austrian Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Ms. Rogers was hosted by the Hayek Institute in Vienna, Austria.

U.S. President On Earth Day

President Obama traveled for the very first time this Wednesday to The Everglades, one of our country’s most unique and treasured landscapes. But Wednesday’s trip was about more than touring an iconic National Park on Earth Day. Here’s why.

The Everglades are flat, and they border a rising ocean. As the sea levels rise, the shorelines erode, and that salty water travels inland, threatening the aquifers supplying fresh drinking water to Floridians. That doesn’t just destroy a beautiful and unique national landscape. It threatens an $82 billion state tourism economy, and drinking water for more than 7 million Americans — more than a third of Florida’s population.

Edwina_Rogers_with_Austrian_Ambassador Ferdinand TrauttmansdorffOver the last eight years, the United States has cut more carbon pollution than any other. Recently, the Surgeon General presented a powerful conversation about the real impacts of climate change on the health of our families. The White House is taking on climate issues, so that means preventing more asthma attacks and premature deaths, billions in revenue loss, and the potential disappearance of natural habitats for wildlife.

The Secular Policy Institute will host a panel of experts to discuss Earth’s Climate at its World Future Forum on October 26 in Washington, DC. This topic was the most requested by Congressional Members and their staff.

What can you do? Share your personal story regarding your favorite natural habitat on the US Whitehouse website, on the SPI Facebook page and on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #ActOnClimate. If you need to find a national park, you can do that at

View Earth For Earth Day

NASA astronaut Terry Virts captured unbelievable footage of the earth rotating beneath the International Space Station in this first ever GoPro video taken during a spacewalk in February.

U.S. Congress – Senate To Vote On Lynch

The US Congress is in session and in week 2 of a 6-week work period, ending with the Memorial Day Recess.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that negotiators had reached a bipartisan deal on a bill to fight human trafficking, clearing the way for a vote to confirm attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch. Mitch McConnell said that “as soon as we finish the trafficking bill,” senators will take up Lynch’s confirmation vote.

As Leader McConnell has noted, a vote on the Loretta Lynch nomination to be Attorney General will be the next item of business after completion of the anti-human trafficking bill. Also, following completion of S. 178, the Senate will begin consideration of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which the Foreign Relations Committee reported out unanimously last week.

Looking ahead the remaining four weeks of this work period, issues include:

  • Ambush Elections Rule Veto Override
  • Budget Resolution Conference Report
  • Cybersecurity
  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization
  • Highway authorization legislation (authority expires end on May)
  • Trade Promotion Authority (TPA)

The Secular Policy Institute was pushing for limitations on religious refusals in the human trafficking bill. Federal tax dollars are passed on to religious and neighborhood charities who are the providers of services to victims of human trafficking. Some religious charities use the consciousness claim to refuses certain services that they object to due to their religious beliefs. Next the SPI will shift to lobbying on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization to ensure sound public education for all.

Congress Extends Abstinence Only Education

HR 2, which includes the “doc fix” for Medicaid reimbursement rates, children’s insurance funding for two-years, and numerous other health care provisions, includes a two-year extension of the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) at the current funding level, $75 million per year, through fiscal year (FY) 2017. It is positive to have two years of funding stability to continue providing adolescent sexual health promotion and adulthood preparation programs across the country. SPI thanks PREP supporters in both the House and the Senate for their continued commitment to ensuring investments in medically accurate and evidence-based based efforts to equip young people with the sexual health information, including topics such as abstinence, healthy relationships, and contraception, they need to make healthy decisions throughout their live.

The compromise bill package also included a two-year extension of the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) program that enables the implementation of ineffective and stigmatizing curricula. More alarmingly, the program received a funding increase, bringing its annual funding to $75 million. In addition, a policy rider provision in HR 2 now also requires unobligated Title V AOUM funds be made available to states implementing programs that adhere to the full A-H definition of “Abstinence Education,” as opposed to returning any unobligated funds to the general treasury as before.

An original Secular Policy Institute report published this week, Abuse in AmericaÔÇÖs Faith-Based Initiative System: A Secular Policy Institute Report, demonstrates that abstinence-only sex education is harmful, driving up rates of teen pregnancy, making STDs more likely, and making teens with STDs less likely to get treatment.

Given the state-match requirements of the program, this has the potential to surpass more than $130 million per year in public dollars wasted on AOUM programs that have consistently proven to be ineffective. While there is an unfortunate track record of funding increases for ineffective AOUM programs through multiple funding streams, this is the first ever increase for the 18 year-old mandatory Title V AOUM program.

SPI is incredibly disappointed by this wasteful funding increase and the expansion of AOUM programs. Since 1982, more than $1.7 billion in federal dollars have been spent on these programs that are damaging to young people, especially those who are already sexually active, engaged in same-sex relationships, and/or survivors of sexual abuse or assault, and fail to provide opportunities to learn the health information and skill that young people will use throughout their lives.

New Malawi Law Discriminates Against LGBT Community

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) raised serious concerns about discriminatory provisions in a law signed by Malawi’s President Mutharika that is expected to go into effect shortly. The Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Law creates new forms of legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals. While the law raises the minimum marriage age to 18-a positive move to combat child marriage-it also promotes a policy of exclusion against LGBTI Malawians that would likely translate into discrimination in education, housing, jobs and elsewhere.

Openly Secular Day April 23

Numerous Secular groups are hosting Openly Secular events on April 23. Openly Secular Day is the fourth Thursday in April.

Join hundreds of others and pledge to Tell One Person. One of the best ways to combat the stigma against secular people is to be open about your secular identity.

Louisiana Effort To Repeal Creationism Legislation

Senate Bill 74, dubbed the “Intelligent Outcomes Wanted Act,” would, if enacted, repeal Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which implemented the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008. Governor Bobby Jindal told NBC News in 2013 that the LSEA permits the teaching of creationism, including “intelligent design.” The bill to repeal the LSEA was introduced by Karen Carter
Peterson (D-District 5), who sponsored the similar SB 70 in 2011, SB 374 in 2012, SB 26 in 2013, and SB 175 in 2014. Those four bills were all eventually shelved by the Senate Committee on Education. SB 74 was prefiled in the Louisiana Senate on March 31, 2015, and subsequently referred to the Senate Committee on Education.

The law targeted for repeal calls on state and local education administrators to help to promote “critical thinking skills, logical
analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning”; these four topics were described as controversial in the original draft of the legislation.

It also allows teachers to use “supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze,
critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner” if so permitted by their local school boards. A sponsor of the bill told the Hammond Daily Star (April 6, 2008) that the bill was aimed at promoting the discussion of “scientific data related to creationism.”

Endorsers of the repeal effort include a group of seventy-eight Nobel laureates in the sciences (representing nearly 40% of living Nobel laureates in the sciences), the National Association of Biology Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators, the Louisiana Coalition for Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the American Society for Cell Biology, the Society for the Study of Evolution together with the Society of Systematic Biologists and the American Society of Naturalists, the Clergy Letter Project, the New Orleans City Council, and the Baton Rouge Advocate.

See the Louisiana Senate Bill 74 as introduced in PDF form.

Georgia Conscience Clauses Under Review

Georgia’s broad “conscience clauses” are under renewed scrutiny due to reports that a pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for a drug some abortion opponents don’t like. According to Brittany Cartrett, a Walmart pharmacy blocked her prescription for Misoprostol. Cartrett needed the drug to manage a natural miscarriage, but it is also often prescribed to induce medical abortions.

But Walmart insists that this isn’t a case of conscientious objection.
“The pharmacist exercised professional judgment about the medication and chose not to fill the prescription and reached out to customer’s doctor and shared that information,” said company spokesman Brian Nick. Nick also told Mother Jones that the pharmacist refused because the prescription didn’t follow FDA regulations.

The FDA, however, has approved Misoprostol for off-label use in managing miscarriages. Mother Jones also reports that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists determined the drug is effective in managing 99 percent of miscarriages.

Another commenter reported similar trouble, writing, “The pharmacist proceeded to lecture me about how I needed to verify I wasn’t pregnant first before taking it! I was already in tears (it wasn’t my first miscarriage) and she was clueless. After explaining the situation, she said she needed to speak to my doctor personally in order to fill it.” The woman chose a surgical procedure to deal with the miscarriage rather than face the pharmacist again.

Failure to remove the contents of a miscarriage can result in septicemia, or blood poisoning. It’s a life-threatening condition, as demonstrated by the infamous case of Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 after an Irish hospital refused to terminate her miscarriage. An inquest blamed hospital staff’s interpretation of the country’s strict abortion law as a significant contributing factor to her death; that law makes it illegal to “procure a miscarriage.”

Although there are grave consequences to impeding a miscarrying woman’s access to Misoprostol, conscience clauses don’t typically make exceptions for miscarriages. Some pharmacists even rely on the laws to block access to contraception.

According to a Yale University study that was cited by MSNBC in an article, medical professionals in California, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington refused to fill prescriptions or perform procedures that violated their personal religious beliefs. In one particularly extreme case, a physician and midwife in Pennsylvania refused to recommend a patient receive an abortion even though her amniotic fluid had become infected.