Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, didn’t think things could get worse in 2016.
First came the landmark 5-3 decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, where the U.S. Supreme Court struck down safety measures adopted by Texas state lawmakers to regulate abortion centers. The decision in late June represented a major blow to pro-lifers who hoped a different outcome would have ramped up safety standards nationwide and reduced the number of abortions.
Then the next day, the high court rejected an appeal from a Washington state pharmacist who did not want to betray his conscience and provide abortifacient drugs. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his dissent that those who value religious freedom “have cause for great concern.”
Back-to-back court defeats combined with extreme pro-abortion candidate Hillary Clinton leading in most presidential polls at the time had pro-lifers reeling.
“In a two-day period we thought we were losing our culture,” Mancini said.
But six months later, as March for Life staff members and volunteers finalize plans for the world’s largest annual peaceful protest for the unborn in January, there’s a renewed sense of optimism in the pro-life movement for 2017 and beyond.
State legislatures across the country continue to make incremental progress on protecting children in the womb. Nebraska became the first state to pass a ban on abortions after 20 weeks in 2010. Since then more than a dozen states have enacted similar limits and numerous other protections.
But pro-life groups have grander long-term goals: defunding Planned Parenthood, making the Hyde Amendment permanent in barring taxpayer-funded abortions, and securing a pro-life Supreme Court to one day overturn Roe v. Wade.
An ambitious agenda that seemed impossible earlier this year without pro-life officials in key government positions, but Election Day results have sparked a fresh outlook for pro-life organizations.
“With Hillary, we were looking at a pro-abortion Supreme Court for the next 30, 40 years; we wouldn’t get anything passed,” said Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League and a pioneer in pro-life activism. “But [Donald Trump’s] strange election has electrified the movement.”
Scheidler was not a Trump fan during the campaign, telling me he thought the president-elect was a playboy and that many of his ideas, such as building a wall at the U.S. southern border, were “ridiculous.”
After Trump clinched the Republican nomination, his selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate and Kellyanne Conway as his campaign manager helped quell Scheidler’s skepticism. But he never believed Trump could actually win.
“We were ready to be where the Democrats are now: gloomy, sad, disturbed,” Scheidler said. “But Trump sneaking through the way he did, there’s a really strange optimism.”
Other social conservatives share Scheidler’s newfound hope. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins even went as far as emailing his donors that “God gave America a reprieve in 2016 from judgment.”
But Abby Johnson, CEO of And Then There Were None (ATTWN), a non-profit organization that helps abortion workers leave the industry, told me Election Day didn’t change anything for her.
“Our goal has never been to make abortion illegal; our goal is to make it unthinkable,” she said, adding that achieving that cultural shift stems from changing hearts and minds, not playing politics.
ATTWN helped more than 100 abortion center workers vacate the industry in 2016 alone—the most since Johnson started the organization in 2012.
“We tell people, ‘No one grows up dreaming of working in an abortion clinic,’” Johnson said. “I think that message really resonates with people.”
Johnson, Scheidler, and Mancini all say there’s now a negative stigma on the abortion industry and public opinion is trending in a pro-life direction.
A 2016 survey showed a majority of Americans support fewer abortions. And even among persons who identify as “pro-choice,” 51 percent do not support abortions after the first trimester.
Pro-abortion supporters are taking notice, including politicians. This month a group of 34 pro-abortion U.S. senators, led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., wrote a letter to Trump asking him to protect Planned Parenthood’s funding.
“The economic security of women and their families is directly tied to a woman’s access to reproductive health care, including birth control and counseling,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to stand with women and against Congressional Republicans.”
Trump has not responded publicly to the letter, which pointed out that during the campaign he said, “Planned Parenthood has done very good work for millions of women.” But the president-elect also has said, “We’re not going to fund [it] as long as you have … abortion going on at Planned Parenthood.”
The 44th annual March for Life will take place in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27—one week after Trump’s inauguration.
Judge rules government cannot mandate sex change coverage
Ruling protects healthcare providers’ religious liberty
By Samantha Gobba
(WNS)--Doctors and healthcare providers do not have to break with their consciences to perform sex change operations under a preliminary injunction against an Obama administration mandate.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas ruled in favor of eight states and three Christian healthcare groups on Dec. 31 by blocking a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule set to go into effect Jan. 1.
The rule revised section 1557 of Obamacare to place gender identity under the same nondiscrimination protections as biological sex. The HHS Office for Civil Rights “recognizes that an individual’s gender identity involves the interrelationship between an individual’s biology, gender, internal sense of self, and gender expression related to that perception,” the mandate states.
Despite complaints that the rule did not include exemptions for religious groups, as found in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, HHS wrote that every insurance company or healthcare provider receiving federal funds, such as payments from Medicare or Medicaid, must provide, refer for, or cover “gender transition services.”
White House spokeswoman Katie Hill called the decision on Saturday a “setback, but hopefully a temporary one,” according to Reuters.
But Christian groups battling in the mandate in court saw the injunction as a victory.
The Becket Fund, a nonprofit law firm representing the Catholic hospital network Franciscan Alliance and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations in a lawsuit it filed in August, applauded the decision.
“We were thrilled to receive the news on Saturday that the court has protected these medical professionals from having to make decisions that were contrary to their best judgment for patients,” Becket Fund’s senior counsel Lori Windham told me.
The injunction bolstered the organization’s confidence that it and eight other states that joined the lawsuit would win against the federal rule.
“It shows that the government has really overstepped its bounds by trying to interfere in the private decisions made by doctors and their patients,” Windham said.
O’Connor, in his 46-page opinion, cited his 2016 ruling in Texas v. United States that challenged a law requiring schools to honor a student’s gender identity for bathroom use: “The meaning of sex in Title IX unambiguously refers to ‘the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.’”
O’Connor ruled HHS not only violated the Administrative Procedure Act, a federal law about rule-making, but also the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which forbids a federal or state governing body from burdening a person’s religious freedom.
“If Congress wished to assign that decision to HHS, it surely would have done so expressly,” O’Connor wrote. “HHS had no authority to interpret such a significant policy decision.”
Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Wisconsin have sued HHS along with Texas.
Another lawsuit, filed in late December by the Catholic Benefits Association, challenges not only the Affordable Care Act’s interpretation of Title IX but also Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The group hopes to halt the redefining of “sex” in both places to retain protections for Christian healthcare workers and Christian employers outside the medical field.
Saturday’s ruling bodes well for the Catholic Benefits Association’s lawsuit, the group’s general counsel, Martin Nussbaum, told me. It set a strong precedent regarding the changes in section 1557 of Obamacare and “a very helpful analogous precedent with regards to Title VII,” Nussbaum said.
Agreeing with O’Connor that HHS had acted outside its bounds, Windham said her organization would continue to watch for similar threats to religious liberty: “We want to ensure that religious healthcare professionals can continue to serve their communities and follow their faith.”
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: January 6, 2017