February 25, 2024 - 6:15pm

Commentators have portrayed Project 2025, a conservative plan to recapture the administrative state with a 900-page document explaining how, as a blueprint for Donald Trump’s next term. In particular, critics have zeroed in on its social policies to warn that, should he win the election once again, Trump will ban birth control, among other measures. 

The trouble is that there is no evidence that a second-term President Trump would pay it any attention.

Project 2025 was led by the Heritage Foundation, together with dozens of other conservative advocacy groups, and offers a “consensus view of how major federal agencies must be governed”, as well as bracketed options on issues in which conservatives disagree on the right approach. It provides advice on policy issues ranging from healthcare to agriculture, and from education to international development.  

During his first administration, Trump clashed with right-of-centre think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation over issues including tech regulation, federal spending and the response to George Floyd’s death. Trump’s team has repeatedly distanced itself from the project, stating that the campaign alone will determine his platform, and that supposed allies of the former president are doing him no favours by stirring speculation about his next term. 

Several left-of-centre commentators and outlets have warned that Project 2025 seeks to ban birth control. More accurately, the proposal is to return to a Trump-era rule allowing opt-outs for healthcare providers and insurers who do not wish to provide birth control due to religious or moral objections. The birth control coverage requirement came into effect under Barack Obama, whose administration famously fought a protracted legal battle against Little Sisters of the Poor over the issue. 

Project 2025 also calls for male contraceptives not to be considered a woman’s preventative care service, and for potentially abortifacient forms of emergency contraceptives to be excluded from the government’s mandate — a far cry from making all contraceptives illegal. 

The proposal does, however, include a broad critique of the federal government’s policy on abortion. It calls for enforcing the existing ban on federal funding for abortions and for the Department of Health and Human Services to reverse what Project 2025 considers abortion activism, such as the approval of the abortion-inducing drug mifepristone; it argues the FDA approval process was politically motivated and endangers women’s health. Revoking its authorisation would mean that abortions would be performed surgically rather than chemically. 

Several outlets claimed the project aims to “ban abortion”. While the proposal, if enacted, would certainly make abortion less accessible — for example, by dropping federal regulations that undermine state-level abortion restrictions — it does not suggest an actual ban. In any case, Trump himself has expressed support for legal abortion up to 16 weeks. 

Another source of concern has been the proposed dismantling of the administrative state, which Project 2025 defines as “policymaking work done by the bureaucracies of all the federal government’s departments, agencies, and millions of employees”, instead of democratically elected legislature. The administrative state is wrongly shielded by Congress from presidential discipline, it argues, adding that this can be corrected through mass firings and the closure of corrupt bureaus. Critics have cited this proposal as an inappropriate expansion of presidential powers.

It’s unclear the extent to which Trump might actually pursue this policy in a second term. The loudest complaint about his first ministry from the Right is that he failed to gut the administrative state, a reality widely acknowledged by the mainstream press. 

Project 2025 provides an interesting glimpse into the direction of the American Right — but tells us precious little about Trump 2.0. If the past is anything to go by, the former president takes pleasure in acting against the commands of conservative think tanks which, despite their populist turn in recent years, he still considers the Washington establishment. 

is UnHerd’s US correspondent.