WASHINGTON, D.C., February 19, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a lawsuit brought by a Texas abortion provider against Catholic bishops who had offered to bury aborted babies free of charge.
In Whole Woman’s Health v. Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops, the high court declined to hear a case that sought to force the bishops to release decades of internal religious documents regarding abortion.
“Thank goodness the Supreme Court saw this appeal for what it was: a nasty attempt to intimidate the bishops and force them to withdraw their offer to bury every child aborted in Texas,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops in the case.
Whole Woman's Health was challenging a 2-1 majority ruling by a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that had rejected the abortion provider’s request for thousands of pages of the Catholic bishops’ internal communications regarding the burial of aborted babies’ remains. The ruling affirmed that burying fetal remains is constitutional and that the request for the Church records amounted to intimidation.
“The First Amendment expressly guarantees the free exercise of religion — including the right of the Bishops to express their profound objection to the moral tragedy of abortion, by offering free burial services for fetal remains. By contrast, nothing in the text or original understanding of the Constitution prevents a state from requiring the proper burial of fetal remains,” the Fifth Circuit said in its decision. “They leave this Court to wonder if this discovery is sought, inter alia, to retaliate against people of faith for not only believing in the sanctity of life — but also for wanting to do something about it.”
When Whole Woman’s Health appealed the panel’s decision to the Fifth Circuit, the court denied the request in August 2018. “Abortion groups may think the bishops ‘troublesome,' but it is wrong to weaponize the law to stop the bishops from standing up for their beliefs,” Rassbach said.
That decision came after Whole Woman's Health successfully challenged abortion reforms passed by Texas. The Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the Texas law infringed upon access to abortion. In addition to demanding hospital admitting privileges for abortionists, the law required that the remains of aborted babies should not be thrown into landfills or flushed down sewers as medical waste. Abortionists complained that burial or cremation was too costly.
When Catholic bishops offered free burials for aborted babies, they were pulled into Whole Woman's Health's lawsuit against the state government.
The Becket Fund praised Tuesday's decision by the Supreme Court not to hear the case because it means the Fifth Circuit's ruling will remain in place. At least four justices must vote to have a case heard before the Supreme Court.