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Supreme Court’s recent decisions are major blows to life and liberty

Two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions are devastating blows to life and religious liberty.

In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt ("Hellerstedt"), by a 5-3 opinion authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court struck down a Texas law that had required abortion clinics to meet the safety standards of ambulatory surgical centers and required doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges.

In Stormans, Inc. v. Weisman ("Stormans"), the court denied review of a Washington state regulation requiring a pharmacy to deliver all prescription medications (including abortifacient contraceptives), even if the owner of the pharmacy has a religious objection.

The court, in Hellerstedt, further distorted an already corrupt abortion jurisprudence. It did so in various ways, but I will highlight two ways.

First, this decision further propagates the lie that abortion is a fundamental good and constitutional right for women. By upholding the fabricated right to abortion, the court disregards the supreme dignity of human life from the moment of conception. The court also discounts efforts to protect women’s health in the midst of an act that already produces negative physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual consequences.

Second, the court asserts raw judicial power by establishing novel procedural rules and dismissing the efforts of a legislative body. The court bent over backwards to carve out exceptions to procedural rules to reach a favorable decision for abortion clinics and doctors.

This "troubling tendency" (as Justice Clarence Thomas calls it) of abortion distortion occurred to such an extent that Justice Samuel Alito proposed it will undermine "public confidence in the court as a fair and neutral arbiter."

The court also circumvented the Texas legislature’s rationale to prioritize patient safety. Instead of offering any credence to the legislature’s reasoned judgments, the court substantially deferred to a trial court. Additionally, the court’s reasoning offered no indication of the types of regulations a state could validly establish in the context of pre-viability abortions. This leaves legislatures guessing at the evidence required to establish constitutional public policy.

As Justice Thomas criticizes: "Our decisions deliver neither predictability nor the promise of a judiciary bound by the rule of law."

In Stormans, the court’s decision to deny review provides, as Justice Alito forewarns, an "ominous sign" of "how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead," which should give "those who value religious freedom cause for great concern."

The case involved a family who owned a local grocery store and pharmacy in Olympia, Wash. As devout Christians, the Stormans sought to run their store and pharmacy in accord with their religious beliefs, which affirm the scientifically demonstrable reality that human life begins at conception and drugs which prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg constitute abortion.

But, even though Washington regulations allow a refusal to dispense the drugs for a host of secular reasons, they do not permit exceptions for religious or moral reasons.

After 12 days of trial, the trial court enjoined the regulations. The court determined that the "predominant purpose" of the regulation was to "stamp out the right to refuse" dispensation of emergency contraception for religious reasons. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court and upheld the Washington regulation.

The Supreme Court denied further review. Justice Alito dissented, claiming there should be an assessment whether the regulation "stems from animosity to religion or distrust of its practices." This means, for now, the 9th Circuit decision is authoritative law in that judicial circuit and puts folks in Washington, like the Stormans, in a dilemma: violate your sincerely held religious beliefs or leave the pharmaceutical business.

In short, these decisions by our nation’s highest court further prove life and religious liberty continue to be under attack. In the midst of these assaults, we do well to have courage and take heart in these words of Pope Benedict XVI:

"Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world."


Tom Venzor is the associate director of pro-life and family with the Nebraska Catholic Conference in Lincoln. Contact him at

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