February 2, 2015 (Bound4Life.com) — Over the past seven weeks, three separate federal appeals courts have heard important cases related to abortion policy in America — all with far-reaching implications for pre-born lives.
Two of the cases have been hotly discussed in national media: the legal battle over Texas’ pro-life law at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, and a challenge to Obamacare by Roman Catholic nuns at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
Meanwhile, at the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, two other abortion-related cases — centered on two states’ so-called Heartbeat Laws — have gone largely unreported.
The story of Catholic nuns forced to cover abortion-inducing forms of contraception is noted frequently to illustrate the Obama Administration’s hostility to religious freedom.
Less often do commentators elaborate that the nuns’ court case Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell is ongoing, the most recent hearing on December 8, 2014 at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
They are represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit, public-interest legal team with a strong record of winning religious liberty cases — including on behalf of Hobby Lobby Stores, in a similar challenge to the Obamacare abortion-drugs mandate.
While the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision in June 2014 applied to family-owned businesses, Little Sisters of the Poor are protesting the Obamacare mandate as a religious non-profit group.
Attorneys for Little Sisters of the Poor expect the case to be decided in their favor. Their case captured the nation’s attention a year ago when, surprising many court observers, Justice Sonia Sotomayor (appointed to the court by President Obama) granted the nuns’ emergency appeal to sidestep the Obamacare mandate until an appeals court ruled on the case.
A few weeks later and over 1,200 miles away in New Orleans, the latest challenge to Texas’ pro-life law was heard at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Genevieve Wood, senior contributor to The Daily Signal, describes the health policy issues at stake in this case Whole Woman’s Health v. Lakey:
A provision in a Texas law passed in 2013 states “minimum standards for an abortion facility must be equivalent to the minimum standards adopted for ambulatory surgical centers.”
Abortion rights supporters say it’s not necessary for abortion clinics to have the same standards as other medical clinics. [Yet] because abortion clinics have not been more regulated, there is a growing list of clinics around the country now coming under investigation and scrutiny for failing health inspections and harming women.
In one of the most-spirited debates ever aired on PBS, Wood discusses the Texas law with pro-choice panelists in a recent segment from “On the Contrary”:
Clearly the issue of life is being openly deliberated in the public square. Yet little has been said of the most recent hearings affecting pre-born lives; this is perhaps due to the cases’ complexity as well as, for pro-life advocates, the busy lead-up to the March for Life.
On January 13, three judges at the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis heard two cases back-to-back — each with similar arguments presented to defend state laws banning abortions based on when a baby’s heartbeat can be detected (read: Heartbeat Laws).
Edwards v. Beck challenges Arkansas’ Human Heartbeat Protection Act, passed in March 2013 by a 56-33 vote in the Arkansas House of Representatives. This overwhelming majority vote enacted the law, despite Governor Mike Beebe (D) vetoing the original bill.
In November 2014, Arkansas voters replaced him with Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) who ran on a platform supporting the state’s Heartbeat Law and other pro-life policies. The state’s new Attorney General Leslie Rutledge stated during her campaign: “I will fight hard to support pro-life initiatives,” noting the pending appeals court case.
In the same month as Arkansas’ life-or-death drama played out, North Dakota passed a similar Heartbeat Law; abortion providers moved swiftly and filed a similar lawsuit. MKB Management Corp. v Stenehjem challenges North Dakota’s HB 1456 enacted as law, which “makes it a criminal offense to perform an abortion if a heartbeat has been detected.”
The winding road of legislation and lawsuits finally lead to a courtroom in St. Louis, where the two sides faced off in front of a three-judge panel on January 13.
Present in court during the hearings, pro-family legal advocate Allan Parker was struck by both states’ closing arguments in the two cases. “Usually in court you close with your strongest argument. It is telling that we heard the defense close noting the harms of abortion to women and the availability of Safe Haven laws, which is a totally new argument.”
Also called “Baby Moses” laws, Texas enacted the first Safe Haven law in 1999 to give parents in crisis a way to safely give up an infant they could not raise.
“The defense rested on the fact that Safe Haven laws provide a better alternative for women than abortion does,” he says. “Women can turn their babies over to the state, no questions asked, and be free of the burden of childcare — obviously, without having to terminate the child.”
He notes with enthusiasm that Safe Haven laws now exist in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, adding, “This is the first time that argument has been made in any court in America. It’s a new question, and the appeals court is free to make its own decision; it’s a case of first impression to use the legal term.”
While Parker radiates optimism on the case, the petitioners do as well. “We feel that these cases are rock solid in our favor, that they make the rules very clear: The state can’t ban abortion prior to viability,” said Janet Crepps in an interview with Courthouse News Service. Crepps serves as senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the case on behalf of a North Dakota abortion center.
Also present in the courtroom was Myra Myers, who lost a child to abortion and now tells her story through Operation Outcry. She offered a different perspective, saying, “I am so grateful that both these states have presented a strong defense to protect the lives of unborn children.”
Myers pointed to the “startling” testimony of one abortion center owner. “Nobody gets pregnant to have an abortion,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of Whole Woman’s Health which provides abortions in four states. Her admission was presented to the court in a legal brief.
“She’s right: nobody even thinks about abortion until they’re pregnant and scared,” says Myers. “Once you’re inside a clinic, the abortion industry says there is only one option. I didn’t know a ‘safe haven’ was possible when I lost my baby to abortion; none of these mothers are informed about it.”
Outside the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Melissa Jacobs lead a team of ten women and men who prayed on the court’s steps as lawyers made their case inside. “We have been covering these cases and this court in prayer for over 18 months,” she said following their silent prayer gathering. “Today, I have a peace we’ve been faithful in this assignment the Lord has given us.”
Temperatures dipped to 10 degrees, yet the team stood in prayer for over an hour. Co-leader of Bound4LIFE St. Louis with her husband, Jacobs remained confident that the prayers outside mattered as much as the arguments inside.
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“God hears us when we pray,” she said. “The judges’ decisions won’t be released for some time, so we can’t stop persisting in prayer. We believe America could change in a heartbeat through these cases.”
Decisions by federal judges in all four cases are expected in a matter of months, with the fate of life-saving state policies on the line.
After 10 years in communications/marketing at The Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family, Josh M. Shepherd serves as Communications Manager at Bound4LIFE. He earned a degree in Business Marketing from the University of Colorado. Passionate about the next generation knowing the Father heart of God, Josh’s highest earthly honor is being husband to his lovely wife Terri.
This Bound4LIFE article is reprinted with permission.