WASHINGTON -- Close ties between the Trump administration and a prominent conservative think tank correlate with several administration health policy decisions, according to new information from a liberal government watchdog group shared exclusively with CQ Roll Call.
The 35-page Equity Forward report says that The Heritage Foundation's influence plays a large role in decisions related to abortion, fetal tissue research, contraception and protections for same-sex couples.
Think tanks that support an administration are known to yield influence over policy decisions, but Equity Forward calls the ties with The Heritage Foundation "alarming" because the organization says Heritage is succeeding in securing policy decisions that contradict the Department of Health and Human Services' intended mission.
"The fundamental difference of what we are seeing with the Heritage Foundation versus think tank influence in the past is what the fundamental reason is for influencing the policy," said Equity Forward Executive Director Mary Alice Carter, adding that she believes the foundation is "putting forth policies that are harmful to people."
The report says that Heritage "in many cases -- far from delivering so-called 'conservative' policy recommendations solely of limited regulations and government -- actively celebrate barriers to health care and civil rights for vulnerable populations."
Carter is worried about attempts within HHS to undermine existing programs such as the 2010 health care law, the federal family planning program that provides contraception, and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program.
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"They don't come right out and say we hate birth control. They don't come right out and say we hate gay people," she said, adding that they instead come up with reasons as to why a person is violated by a policy. "They can say we just oppose this because someone's right to refuse outranks your right to have it."
A separate 2018 report by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania found that The Heritage Foundation ranked as the think tank with the most significant impact on public policy and the top U.S. think tank to watch in 2019.
The Heritage Foundation is proud of its influence.
"With a history of providing policymakers with proven solutions to complex issues, it's no surprise that Heritage recommendations have been used by lawmakers and federal agencies," said Marguerite Bowling, senior communications manager for The Heritage Foundation. "As to former staffers, any real 'watchdog group' would note that it is naturally reoccurring for employees of think tanks, nonprofits and advocacy groups across the ideological spectrum to take positions within the federal government."