Life Line - Landmark SCOTUS Decision Promotes Religious Liberty

Little Sisters win contraceptive case, an Ohio abortion clinic shutters, England looks to loosen abortion restrictions, and John Roberts delivers yet another puzzling opinion.

Monday, July 13th, 2020

Liberty, Liberty, Liberty: A Monumental Score for the Little Sisters of the Poor

Honestly, there’s only one phrase that comes to mind after Wednesday’s powerfully significant Supreme Court decision.

It’s about time!

After a string of rather disheartening Supreme Court decisions with razor-thin results, Wednesday’s bipartisan ruling is an encouraging, wholesome, patriotic reflection of American values. Life was protected, liberty was promoted, the pursuit of happiness was preserved, and a group of nuns won a crucial victory that will have a major impact on the fight against abortion The echoes of the case are already reverberating throughout society.

The Little Sisters of the Poor is a community of Catholic women that was founded two centuries ago and seeks to serve the elderly, the homeless, the sick, and the needy. They have been heroes of hospitality throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and they have been serving on the front lines to care for all types of people less fortunate than themselves. Despite their good Samaritan tendencies, the Sisters have been in court since 2013 as they constantly fought to defend their religious convictions against hateful, discriminatory attacks. It all began when the Obama Administration implemented an HHS (Health & Human Services) mandate requiring all employers to provide contraceptives, pills, and abortion-inducing drugs in their healthcare plans. Unsurprisingly, due to the deeply-held convictions of the Sisters surrounding the issue of the sanctity of life, this mandate directly contradicted their beliefs. While the Supreme Court awarded them a minor victory in 2016 and the Trump administration granted them religious exemptions shortly thereafter, the Little Sisters of the Poor were still sued by New Jersey and Pennsylvania leadership over their religious objections. Take note, Pennsylvanians! Our Attorney General Josh Shapiro has been one of the most vocal critics of the Little Sisters’ fight for exemptions, and he led the lawsuit against them, further solidifying why he needs to be voted out of office immediately! Now, after ignoring this issue and letting it lie stagnant for years on end, all but two of the Supreme Court justices ruled (finally) that the Trump administration’s exemptions were constitutional and that the Little Sisters of the Poor were within their rights to keep contraceptive birth control out of their health care plan.

There is no other way to paint this decision: it is truly a monumental victory for religious liberty in America, and one that deserves to be applauded. It comes at an incredibly poignant time, too, after the Supreme Court recently ruled in a 5-4 decision that Louisiana abortion clinics didn’t need to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The pro-life movement appeared to fall into a bit of rut, and the long-overdue decision in the Little Sisters of the Poor case was a big step in the right direction. Justice Clarence Thomas penned the majority opinion, praising the work of the Little Sisters and condemning the ongoing attacks. "For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother," he wrote. "But for the past seven years, they — like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today’s decision -- have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs. We hold today that the Departments had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption. We further hold that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects," Thomas wrote.

Additionally, this ruling is significant because it reflects the worldview dynamic of the Supreme Court. We know that Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh tend to vote conservatively the majority of the time. But the beliefs of Chief Justice John Roberts have fallen under scrutiny after a string of questionable votes, so it is incredibly encouraging to see him support a common-sense, pro-life ruling. Moreover, this was a completely bipartisan decision. Not only did the five Republican-appointed justices support the Little Sisters of the Poor, but liberal justices Stephen Bryer and Elena Kagan concurred as well, reinforcing the fact the 7-2 result was full of common sense and morality.

This Supreme Court decision is a welcome sight and the end of this ongoing battle is worthy of celebration. But at the same time, it is cause for solemn reflection. This fight has been an utter legal travesty since it began in 2013. A religious organization that serves the elderly, the dying, the homeless, and the impoverished has been viciously, brutally, all because they believed that every life matters and desired control over their own health care plan. What’s more, this decision shouldn’t have even been necessary, since the Religious Freedom Restoration Act prevents the federal government from burdening or restricting the exercise of religion. Furthermore, there were actually no women identified in the litigation that were unable to obtain contraceptives. Many can get birth control through family plans, and those that can’t have options on the federal, state, and local levels for free or subsidized contraceptive coverage. Essentially, this case began due to phantom accusations that the Little Sisters were denying women reproductive rights when in reality, that was a blatant lie. In short, this was a wonderful victory, but the battle should never have even begun in the first place. 

Pro-life leaders around the country were quick to respond in celebratory fashion to the bipartisan decision. Randall Wanger, Chief Counsel for the PA Family Institute, applauded the Little Sisters’ fighting spirit and praised the result of the case. “The Little Sisters of the Poor are heroes and should be honored for their compassionate service, not continually attacked in court. These women just want to serve God by serving the elderly – and not have to violate their beliefs to do so. That’s why today’s ruling is so appreciated.” Judicial Crisis Network Vice President and Senior Counsel Frank Scaturro tweeted about the decision, as well. "The Court’s decision today upholding that exemption is a victory for freedom of religion and conscience—for the Little Sisters and for everyone,” he quipped. “Let’s be thankful that the Little Sisters’ ordeal in court has finally ended."

Obviously, the Little Sisters themselves agree with these sentiments. Sister Loraine Marie Maguire summed it up nicely. “For more than 150 years, we Little Sisters of the Poor have served the elderly poor across the nation, starting with our first US house in Brooklyn. This is our calling as a Roman Catholic order. So we’re grateful to God — and to the US Supreme Court — for this week’s decision saving us from having to pay for contraceptives against our beliefs or face crippling fines.”

Despite this win and bipartisan effort, the attacks will continue to come. The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and media organizations across the nation have already condemned the decision, falsely claiming that it denies women full access to reproductive rights. Much of the rhetoric that the opposition is spewing out has to do with bigotry, as many claim that the term “religious liberty” was only invoked in the name of cruel discrimination against women. We must not let them get by with this baseless claim; freedom of religion is not bigotry. Desiring to protect the most vulnerable among us is not discrimination. The ability to practice one’s religion in any sphere without fear is intrinsic to our society and completely constitutional, and cannot be laid aside in employers’ health care plans.

It goes without saying, but the fight is obviously not over. PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro and the rest of the opposition will likely continue to pursue arguments over specifics of the ruling, meaning that the Sisters will likely be forced to continue their battle. Let’s support them through our words, our donations, and our prayer, as they seek to help make the world a better place while preserving their ability to freely express their faith. 

Good News and Bad News in the Midwest

Although much of the focus has been centered around the latest Supreme Court decisions, two major occurrences surrounding the abortion debate also took place in the midwest, in Indiana and Ohio. One brought a welcome sight, the other resulted in a disappointing decision, and we’ll take a look at both.

First, the bad news. Last week, in Indiana, a federal judge determined that a law requiring abortion doctors to report certain abortion-related complications was unconstitutional. This measure lists twenty-six complications typically associated with reproductive services, from anxiety and insomnia to infections and cardiac arrest, and it would have compelled abortion providers to report them to the state. The ACLU argued on behalf of Planned Parenthood, saying that the law was vague and lacked specificity, also arguing that it was unconstitutional and should be struck down. Furthermore, Planned Parenthood condemned the regulation as “excessive government overreach,” saying that it “lacked any standard” for determining which complications should be reported. Once again, the pro-choice community and abortion providers are making wild, baseless accusations by returning to the crux of their argument; violation of women’s rights. Once again, they run into what has quickly become the leftist kryptonite: common sense. This measure was not even in place to limit reproductive freedom. Instead, it was instituted to limit complications, protect women, and preserve the health of patients. The list of twenty-six complications was clearly outlined, the instructions were not vague, and the law was quite specific. There is only one reason to believe it is unconstitutional: abortion is not health care. If abortion is health care, reporting complications to the state would be a no brainer, and keeping women safe would be a given. Instead, this federal judge, backed by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, struck down the regulation, thereby exposing women to harm and chipping away at abortion regulations. 

However, there is also some good news to report!  Over in Ohio, the state’s oldest abortion clinic has just shut down, leaving the Buckeye State with just eight operational abortion clinics and moving one step closer to eliminating the barbaric practice altogether. Located in Olde Towne East just outside Columbus, Founder’s Women’s Health Center had been in business for 47 years, opening up just after the historic Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. For almost half a century, they made a profit by ending innocent lives, but now the owners will head into retirement after shutting their doors for the last time. 

While the clinic made sure to announce that retirement was the sole reason for its closure, pro-lifers are skeptical. “It’s the end of the road for their business model. I believe if their business was doing well and was profitable, they would have sold it to another physician group or continued operating,” said Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis. If we’re being honest, he’s probably not far from the truth. Ohio has experienced a steady decline in abortions over the years, and in the past decade, over two dozen abortion limitations have been instituted by the state. Mere retirement would have probably caused them to turn the business over to someone else, but the full closure of the clinics suggests additional reasons such as lack of revenue and patients. 

No matter what the ultimate cause of closure is, pro-lifers in Ohio should be proud. Since 2010, the number of abortion clinics in the state has decreased from sixteen to eight, and this latest closure is even more historic due to roots that go all the way back to Roe v. Wade. “It’s a long time coming and very positive news that we have one less abortion clinic in Ohio,” Gonidakis said. “Especially in Franklin County, which annually has some of the highest [abortion] numbers of all eighty-eight counties. The more we can limit abortion clinics in Ohio, the better off we are.” Hopefully, the dominoes will continue to fall, more Ohian clinics will shut their doors, and we may soon see the eradication of abortion in the Buckeye State and across the nation. 

Life Line International: Conscience Rights in England

As we conclude this rather lengthy edition of the Life Line, we’ll take a quick trip across the pond to examine amendments to a certain bill that could have disastrous effects on conscientious freedom and religious liberty.

Right now, abortion is legal in England and Wales through 24 weeks of pregnancy, but even that extremely lax restriction is under attack. The Offenses Against the Person Act, which deals with domestic abuse, may be soon amended to include allowances for abortion on demand through 28 weeks of pregnancy. This would also lead to conscience rights of medical workers being violated, as many would be forced to participate in abortions against their will. 

Specifically, sections 58 and 59 of this act are in danger of being repealed. These sections prohibit the use of drugs or instruments to induce a miscarriage, and they protect unborn children in domestic abuse cases. These potential changes are currently being described as mere decriminalization of abortion, which in and of itself would be a distressing development, but there are numerous terrible consequences that would manifest themselves if sections 58 and 59 are indeed repealed. Rights of the unborn would be stripped, abortion on demand would become legal and available nearly through birth, and (perhaps most disconcerting) conscientious objections to abortion would be removed. Clauses in the Abortion Act of 1967 currently provide medical practitioners with exemptions for participating in abortion, but these clauses are in danger of disappearing. 

Many British citizens have been outspoken against these threats to life and religious liberty, perhaps none more so than the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England. Bishop John Sherrington appealed to the British Parliament, encouraging them to increase regulations rather than relax them. “It would leave the U.K. with the most extreme abortion legislation in Europe, where in nearly all countries the time limit for abortion is 12 weeks. The majority of our fellow citizens would like to see the current 24-week limit reduced, not increased.”

Simply put, this is a sick, debased hijacking of a domestic abuse bill that should be seeking to protect the innocent and bring the guilty to justice. Instead, it’s being unashamedly used as a platform to promote abortion. In domestic abuse tragedies, it is the abuser that is the criminal, not the unborn child. The offender must absorb the punishment, and it is ludicrous to punish an innocent party. Protections for unborn children should be increased, not removed, and the British Parliament has a responsibility to recognize that the current clauses in their domestic abuse act are there for a reason: to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. I pray they will uphold that. 

Life Line Special: Life in Louisiana - Who is the Real Roberts?

What a shocker. 

I don’t mean that as a sarcastic remark, either. Truly, I am utterly dumbfounded at the results of a certain Supreme Court decision made last week - June Medical Services v. Russo.  It’s a decision that dealt a major blow to the pro-life cause, placed women in harm’s way, and promoted the unregulated killing of innocent children. In the last edition of the Life Line, I predicted a slim victory for the sanctity of life. Instead, we received a stunning and saddening result that should spur us to action and cause us to question our judicial system.

Let’s recap the case. I’m not going to extensively analyze this one, since our very own Editor-in-Chief Daniel Hostetter already did (read up on it in last week's TCB newsletter). June Medical Services v. Russo was a case examining a Louisiana law that would require abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice. This should be a common-sense measure, seeing as though virtually every other outpatient clinic is required to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. After all, things don’t always go right. Medical malpractice and complications do happen, and admitting privileges ensure that patients are easily able to be transported to hospitals in the event of any problems. In short, the safety of patients should always be the utmost concern in any procedure. However, the Supreme Court didn’t think so. The case decision was handed down last week, and in a 5-4 decision, the highest court in the land ruled that admitting privileges were not necessary, thereby endangering the lives of women and children both in Louisiana and potentially across the nation. Not only does this affect the Bayou State, but it sets a dangerous precedent for future federal laws and rulings surrounding this issue.

The most distressing part of this decision, however, does not stop at the 5-4 verdict. Distressingly, it was Chief Justice Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee and a longstanding champion for conservative values, who cast the deciding vote to swing the decision. Concurring with the four liberal judges (Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Breyer), Roberts claimed that requiring admitting privileges would place undue burden on women, infringe upon their abortion access rights, and defy legal precedent. In reality, however, we know that it was a common-sense initiative designed to protect the health of women and children. 

The fascinating thing about the Chief Justice is that he recently supported Trump’s abortion exemptions for the Little Sisters of the Poor in their recent battle over their health care. John Roberts has clearly become disgruntled with the Trump administration, that much is certain. As a Bush-appointed judge, he has witnessed the transformation of the Republican party over the years and is not quite on board. That being said, one has to ask, what is Roberts’ worldview? Where does his affiliation lie? Have his beliefs evolved over the years? Does he remain a true conservative, or has he morphed into a moderate? Or have the progressives begun to get under his skin? That’s why this is a Life Line special - I truly don’t know the answer. Given Roberts’ latest fluctuation, especially on the issue of life, I want to pose this question to everyone reading and to encourage them to consider the people serving on our land’s highest court. What do you think about John Roberts? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.