The National Association of Christian Lawmakers has officially launched a nationwide push against abortion rights.

At its first annual policy conference last weekend, group members voted to make a controversial new Texas law, the “Texas Heartbeat Bill,” the organization’s first piece of model legislation, meaning that similar bills may soon pop up in state capitols across the country.

The model legislation, called the Heartbeat Model Act, was accepted unanimously by the executive committee during a Saturday meeting. 

The Texas bill it is based upon, Senate Bill 8, bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The legislation also allows for any state resident to bring a civil suit against a doctor who performs an abortion after a heartbeat is detectable. Under the law, a woman who has an abortion would be liable to civil suits, as would anyone who supported her in the act — from family members to the receptionist who checks her in at a clinic. 

“Not only is the doctor liable, but anyone found aiding and abetting,” said Texas legislator Bryan Hughes, the bill’s author, during the Saturday meeting, which was led by the organization’s founder and president, Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert. 

Texas state Rep. Bryan Hughes speaks during the opening session of the 2015 legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, in Austin, Texas. | Eric Gay, Associated Press

Speaking to the Deseret News on Monday, Rapert said the provision allowing residents to bring civil suits against anyone involved in an abortion is like “putting a SCUD missile on that heartbeat bill — they can’t stop it.” 

Rapert was the author of a similar 2013 bill in Arkansas, portions of which were later struck down by a federal judge. At least a dozen states have implemented a variety of abortion restrictions in recent years, leading numerous observers to say that the landmark 1973 Supreme Court abortion ruling, Roe v. Wade, is under threat. 

Critics of the legislation have likened the Texas law to putting “a bounty on the head” of anyone involved in an abortion; they have also called it “unconstitutional.” Last week, a group of providers filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to derail the law, which is supposed to go into effect in September. 

Speaking Saturday to the Christian legislators gathered in Dallas, Hughes reminded the legislators that the Heartbeat Model Act is just a starting point and that the legislation will have to be tailored to work within each state’s laws. 

A anti-abortion supporter argues with those who attended a press conference and rally held by the Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah outside of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Aug. 25, 2015. | Stacie Scott, Deseret News

The National Association of Christian Lawmakers formed last year with three key goals: to offer conservative, Christian legislators networking opportunities,; to help lawmakers share bills that have been successful in their states so that legislators elsewhere might push through similar legislation; and to support Christians running for local, state or national office.

At the policy conference last week, the organization worked toward meeting these goals in various ways, including by approving the Heartbeat Model Act. The executive committee also passed a resolution supporting Israel’s “right to defend itself from terror attacks” and creating a standing American-Israeli Committee.

Speaking to the executive committee, Rabbi Leonid Feldman, who was born in the Soviet Union and was imprisoned there for his pro-Israel activities, remarked that the Jewish people “remember our friends.”

“This conference and this organization will be remembered by the Jewish people,” he said.

The organization also approved a resolution in support of “election integrity.” 

The executive committee also approved a second piece of model legislation: the National Motto Display Model Act. Based on bills passed in Arkansas in 2017 and this year in Texas, the legislation requires public schools to display the national motto “In God We Trust” when printed versions of the motto are donated to schools or copies of the national motto are bought with funds from private donors. 

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“As the Texas House sponsor of the Motto Act, I am proud to see a model put out by the NACL so that legislators from every other state can have a mechanism to ensure our citizens — especially our school-age children — are reminded of our nation’s motto,” said Tom Oliverson, a state representative from Texas and chairman of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers’ national legislative council. 

During the executive committee’s meeting on Saturday, Rapert said Hobby Lobby would make frames available for a reduced price if they’ll be used for national motto displays. 

Asked Monday what other pieces of legislation the organization might adopt as model legislation in the future, Rapert told the Deseret News that the National Association of Christian Lawmakers is already weighing some options.

Since religious freedom is central to the organization, it could end up adopting model legislation similar to bills promoted in Texas this year by Oliverson. He supported three measures designed to make it harder for the government to force church closures during public emergencies, like the COVID-19 pandemic, and a bill that would ensure homeowners’ associations can’t infringe on homeowners’ rights to display religious symbols.

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