WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) Christian Life Commission (CLC) filed a friend of the court brief Feb. 3 with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving Texas abortion laws, the first case since 2007 that the high court as agreed to hear regarding statutory regulation of abortionists.
The MBC filed its brief in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which the Supreme Court has agreed to hear March 2. The brief addresses two provisions of the law that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld: one that requires abortion facilities to meet the same health and safety standards as ambulatory surgical centers, and one that requires abortionists to have admitting privileges at a local hospital in the event a woman must seek hospital care due to post-abortion complications.
“Missouri Southern Baptists care deeply for the yet-to-be born and the potential for the child to fulfill God’s purposes,” said MBC Executive Director John Yeats. “We also believe women’s health is a vital component to the sanctity of life discussions. Sadly, although many more children lose their lives in the unregulated abortuaries than women, the reasonable regulations the Texas statute requires is to protect all human life from negligence and profiteering. Let’s pray that a majority of the Court rules in favor of women’s health instead of tainting their decision with agenda driven opinions,” Yeats said.
The last major abortion case heard by the Supreme Court was Gonzalez v. Carhart, in which the court upheld the federal ban on partial birth abortions.
A father-son team and a husband-wife team of Missouri attorneys filed the MBC brief. Missouri Baptist attorneys Michael and Jonathan Whitehead, from suburban Kansas City and members of Abundant Life Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit, teamed with Joshua and Erin Hawley, both law professors at the University of Missouri Law School in Columbia to filed the brief. Joshua Hawley is on unpaid leave from the university while he campaigns for the office of Missouri Attorney General.
“The laws in Texas protect women’s health by imposing commonplace medical standards on abortionists and their surgical facilities,” said Michael Whitehead, general counsel for the MBC. “The abortionists complain that these rules burden their businesses and might result in fewer below-standard abortion clinics being available – as if that were a bad thing.”
The MBC brief argues that common sense regulations like the Texas statute do not unduly burden women seeking health care during pregnancy. Instead, the people of Texas, Missouri, and elsewhere, have a compelling governmental interest in regulating abortionists to protect women from medical treatment that is sub-standard.
“There is no right to offer sub-standard surgery, yet abortionists claim they’re protecting women’s rights by rejecting common sense medical standards,” observed Jonathan Whitehead. “But customer convenience and abortionist profits are not constitutional rights. These state regulations are not an ‘undue burden’ on women’s health care, as the Supreme Court has defined that doctrine.”
The MBC brief was joined by the Christian Legal Society, a national association headquartered in the Washington, D.C., area. CLS counsel Kim Colby signed onto the brief. Also joining the brief was the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, affiliated with Fowler Law School in Orange, Calif., and John Eastman, a law professor.
The brief urges the Supreme Court to uphold the Fifth Circuit’s ruling and affirm that the quality of medical care provided to women seeking an abortion should not be any lower than the quality of care provided to women undergoing similar invasive procedures. The health and safety of all women should not be compromised for the financial health of the abortion industry.
The Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade recognized an “important interest” in protecting a pregnant women’s health and a “legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortion, like any other procedure, is performed under circumstances that ensure maximum safety for the patient.” In its 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court additionally wrote that “the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman.” Michael Whitehead filed a friend-of-the-court brief in that case as well, on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission (now the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission), when he was its general counsel. In passing the statute, Texas relied upon long-standing Supreme Court precedent that recognizes the states’ constitutional authority to regulate abortion and their strong interests in doing so, especially with regard to the health and safety of women.
One of those precedents came from a Missouri case, which is highlighted in the MBC brief. In Webster v. Reproductive Health Services in 1989, the Supreme Court addressed a series of Missouri regulations ranging from mandatory “viability” medical examinations to prohibitions on the use of public employees and facilities to perform or assist abortions not necessary to save the mother’s life. A majority of the Supreme Court upheld the restrictions at issue, with a plurality of the justices signaling either their tacit or explicit belief that Roe v. Wade should be overruled.
“We shouldn’t be surprised that the abortion rights lobby fights legislation that creates accountability for surgeons and clinics,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “The abortion industry has always operated at the expense of women and families.
“My prayer is that the Supreme Court will act in defense of the lives of women and the unborn in empowering states to cut through the political armor of the abortion industry and keep it accountable to the public.”