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Texas abortion law ruling expected this week

September 16 2014 by Bonnie Pritchett, TEXAN/Baptist Press

Attorneys argued Friday before the U.S. Court of Appeals 5th Circuit whether to fully implement a contested 2013 Texas law regulating abortion practices while a lawsuit against the legislation is on appeal. The decision of the three-judge panel will significantly impact the number of operating clinics statewide, reducing their number from about 20 to seven or eight if the judges rule to overturn a lower court’s injunction.

A ruling is expected by the end of the week according to pro-life advocates who have followed the saga of the hotly debated Texas House Bill 2 since its passage in June 2013. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott asked for the emergency hearing after US District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled Aug. 29 that two of the regulations in HB 2 created an “undue burden” for women seeking abortions, rendering the measures unconstitutional. Yeakel ordered an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the provisions while the case, Whole Women’s Health vs. Leakey, is appealed.

Kyleen Wright, executive director of Texans for Life, and John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life attended the hearing in New Orleans and were encouraged by the judges’ responses to oral argument.


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They would not speculate how the Court would rule on the emergency release from Yeakel’s current injunction prohibiting enforcement of the law but they were optimistic Friday’s (Sept. 12) proceedings shed light on how the court will eventually rule on HB 2 when it hears the full case later this fall.

“It was a lively hearing that went longer than expected because of all the questions,” Seago told The Texan in a telephone interview.

Wright said Judge Jennifer W. Elrod “obviously did her homework,” asking detailed questions of the plaintiff’s attorneys regarding conflicting information presented in the current case and a similar case brought against HB 2 last year by Planned Parenthood.

At last year’s hearing, Elrod sat on the all-female, three-judge panel that unanimously ruled to overturn Yeakel’s injunction against two of the HB 2 provisions.

Plaintiffs in this case also joined last year’s suit. They represent Texas abortion clinic owners and doctors. Planned Parenthood chose not to join the current lawsuit which claims HB 2 regulations requiring abortion clinic doctors to receive admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and clinics upgrade their facilities to meet ambulatory service center (ASC) standards would ultimately restrict women’s constitutionally guaranteed access to abortion.

Seago said the questions and their tone revealed Elrod and Judge Stephen Higginson, a President Barack Obama appointee, had opposing views on the issue. The third judge, Jerry E. Smith, asked the fewest questions but previous rulings suggest he would uphold HB 2 on appeal.

Wright and Seago noted the judges questioned the plaintiff’s statistical information regarding clinic closures and their subsequent impact on women seeking abortions. In his ruling, they said Yeakel failed to prove the “large fraction test” requiring plaintiffs prove that a large percentage of women of child-bearing years would be unduly burdened by clinic closures.

Wright said the abortion clinic attorneys were hard-pressed to give specific numbers and, instead, relied on anecdotal information. In last year’s case Planned Parenthood attorneys claimed implementation of HB 2 would hinder 20,000 women from getting abortions.

But under questioning today from Elrod that number was proven unreliable and based on presumptive information which has since be proven false.

“It was more rhetoric than accurate,” Seago said.

Although the impact of clinic closures were the salient point leading to arguments of “undue burden,” plaintiffs’ attorneys seemed elusive when asked how many abortion clinics will open in a post-HB 2 Texas.

Elrod pressed the issue because Whole Women’s Health, an abortion provider with clinics in major Texas cities, announced it would open a clinic in New Mexico just across the border from an El Paso clinic due to close if HB 2 is upheld.

The El Paso clinic and one in the Rio Grande Valley were featured prominently in Yeakel’s Aug. 29 decision.

Yeakel concluded the State’s ASC regulation was unconstitutional on two fronts. The ASC requirements demanded clinics be built or remodeled to accommodate medical systems used in out-patient clinics. New abortion facilities included those regulations in their designs. But existing facilities said cost or structural issues proved overwhelming and chose to shutter their clinics.

Yeakel argued the ASC systems were not necessary when performing non-surgical, or medication-induced, abortions and were, therefore, arbitrary. But pro-life advocates argued abortion clinics that provide medication-induced abortions also provide surgical abortions, hence the need for the higher standards of practice as outlined in HB 2.

In ordering the injunction, Yeakel argued the ASC requirements and the admitting privileges mandate created an untenable combination for abortion clinics. He specifically cited the plight of two clinics, one in the Rio Grande Valley and one in El Paso.

The admitting privileges provision went into effect last year, requiring abortion clinic physicians receive admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic where they work. According to statistics cited in Yeakel’s ruling, almost half of the 40 Texas abortion clinics closed because their doctors could not get the admitting privileges.

Only the El Paso clinic remained open in west Texas. But the Sept. 1 implementation of the ASC requirements would have forced the closing of that clinic, the lone Texas clinic west of the I35 corridor.

If the regulation requiring clinics to meet ambulatory service center standards had gone into effect Sept. 1, the number of clinics would have dropped to seven or eight located only in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Ft. Worth, noted plaintiff’s attorneys.

“The court concludes the act’s ambulatory-surgical-center requirement, combined with the already in-effect admitting-privileges requirement, creates a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics thereby creating a statewide burden for substantial numbers of Texas women,” Yeakel wrote in his decision.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

9/16/2014 10:02:36 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



72-hour abortion wait prevails in Missouri

September 15 2014 by Brian Koonce, Baptist Press

It took until the final hours of the veto session late on Sept. 10, but the Missouri legislature has overridden Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes and joined two other states with the nation’s longest waiting periods before an abortion: 72 hours.

In what pro-life leaders are calling a major victory, women must now wait three days after an initial consultation with a doctor when seeking an abortion. Missouri’s previous waiting period was 24 hours.
 

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The vote tally was 117-44 in the House and 23-7 in the Senate. With a two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, the bill reached 72.6 percent in the House and 76.6 percent in the Senate. (The original tallies when the bill was passed in the spring were 111-39 and 22-9.) In the Senate, debate had gone on for more than two hours in a Democrat filibuster before Republicans invoked the previous question and brought up the vote.

“We thank the Lord for our elected officials who voted with conviction” during the legislature’s special session, said John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Sen. David Sater, R.-Cassville, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate and a member of First Baptist Church there, said elected officials must remember that “unborn children are not abstractions to play politics with. They are human beings like you and me and deserve protection under the law.

“I firmly believe that most Missourians do not think three days is too much time to decide whether to bring a child into this world,” Sater said. “Another 48 hours could very well be the difference between a life saved and a life ended.”

Nixon vetoed the measure July 2 saying the bill was unacceptable because it did not allow an exemption for rape and incest. Missouri now joins Utah and South Dakota as the only states with 72-hour waiting periods, though Utah has the exceptions for rape and incest similar to what Nixon demanded.

“Nothing in this bill prevents any woman who has been a victim of rape or incest from receiving immediate medical treatment from health care professionals,” said Joe Ortwerth of the Missouri Family Policy Council. “This legislation assures that a woman considering abortion has sufficient time to evaluate accurate medical information concerning the abortion procedure. It also furthers a woman’s freedom to make an independent choice about abortion free from coercion from boyfriends, parents or sexual predators.”

There is only one abortion provider left in Missouri, a Planned Parenthood site in St. Louis. However, there is a location in Granite City, Ill., just a few miles across the state line where there is no waiting period.

Legislators also voted to override Nixon’s line-item veto of a budget increase to Missouri’s Alternatives to Abortion Program. It gives an additional $500,000 annually in tax credits for people who contribute to maternity homes and pregnancy resources, both of which were currently capped at $2 million each. The veto override passed the House, 123-37, and the Senate, 27-2.

These two pro-life votes were among 17 of the governor’s vetoes the General Assembly has overridden the special session.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Koonce writes for The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)

9/15/2014 1:01:41 PM by Brian Koonce, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Pastors urged to fight abortion among blacks

July 21 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The abortion industry has infiltrated the African American community by cloaking the procedure as a woman's civil right and embedding the issue into politics, African American pro-life advocate Arnold Culbreath told Baptist Press.

"The abortion industry shamelessly slithered into the black American community on the heels of the 'free love' movement, soon after Woodstock, and at the outset of the civil rights movement," said Culbreath, urban outreach director for Protecting Black Life, an affiliate of the Life Issues Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio, working to end abortion through education.

The abortion industry "duped black women into believing that abortion was their civil right," Culbreath said. "Not only was this misguided ideology deeply imbedded into the fabric of our community then, but we are still working to dispel the deception of this deadly dogma today."

The industry's tactic is one reason abortion is the leading cause of death among African Americans, Culbreath told Baptist Press.

"Unbeknown to many, abortion remains the leading cause of death among black Americans, higher than all other causes of death combined," Culbreath said. "In 2008, the most recent statistics released in 2011 reveal there were 289,072 black deaths from all causes excluding abortion. But in that same year there were 360,000 surgical black abortions.

"Nearly 1,000 black babies die by abortion every day," Culbreath said. "My passion stems from a God-given burden to see this genocide ended."

The assistant pastor of the nondenominational Heirs Covenant Church of Cincinnati has focused much of his ministry within the Southern Baptist community to accomplish his goal, speaking to audiences of various ethnicities at churches, colleges and special events.

"The Lord just put on my heart the Southern Baptist Convention," Culbreath told Baptist Press. "I just started moving forward and pushing on doors, and the Lord has opened those doors tremendously. We're trying to share some information that I think will change the landscape of our community."

Margaret Sanger targeted the African American community with the Negro Project of 1939, enlisting African American leaders to promote birth control among blacks as family planning. In reality, Culbreath said, she was promoting eugenics and selective reproduction. Sanger founded in 1921 The American Birth Control League, which became Planned Parenthood.

"Every time I speak I bring up Margaret Sanger. The white audiences, they get it. And many of them have known for years and cried out in protest to the genocide that's going on," Culbreath said. "It's so sad that when folks get offended about hearing the truth about Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood, I rarely if ever get offense from the white audiences; it's the black audiences, the very ones that she and Planned Parenthood are working to obliterate. And I find that very sad and quite ironic."

Planned Parenthood, the largest birth control provider in the United States, has located 62.5 percent of its clinics within a two-mile radius of neighborhoods where African Americans and Hispanics make up the majority of residents, according to Life Issues research.

Planned Parenthood denies the charge, citing statistics updated in June from the Guttmacher Institute. The group contends 60 percent of Planned Parenthood clinics are located in majority white neighborhoods.

"The Guttmacher Institute is a leading, independent, nationally recognized reproductive health research and policy organization and we appreciate its unbiased findings that debunk the claim that a majority of abortion providers are located in Black neighborhoods," Vanessa Cullins, Planned Parenthood Federation of America vice president of external medical affairs, said in an email to Baptist Press.

Undisputed are statistics showing that African Americans account for a disproportionate percentage of abortions. In 2011, African American women accounted for 30 percent of abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, when blacks numbered only 12.5 percent of the population, U.S. Census figures show.

Abortion is also fueled by politics, Culbreath said.

"I often say, and I hate to give the devil any credit, but I often say one of his most masterful strategies regarding the issue of abortion, was to politicize it," Culbreath said, "because most people, black, white, brown or yellow, have difficulty talking about, thinking about, dealing with this issue beyond political construct."

"There is a political side to abortion, because it was passed by a 7-2 decision by our Supreme Court. It does have a political side, but in reality, it's much, much more broad than that," Culbreath said. "It has health implications, it has a negative impact ... on women, it has financial implications. It is a multi-billion dollar industry. And one friend of mine often says that if abortion was not lucrative, it would not be legal."

Culbreath cites success in informing African American pastors and others of abortion's detrimental impact on the black community.

"Most pastors, when you're able to have the conversation with them, will begin weeping, and say things like, 'I did not know this. I should have known that,'" Culbreath said. "And then there are those scenarios where a pastor may be post-abortive himself, perhaps in college, that kind of a thing, and maybe never told anybody."

Abortion is more than a woman's issue, Culbreath teaches.

"I tell men, if men are the carriers of the seed, does abortion not have everything to do with us? So if we can train men, put them in accountability partnerships one with another, where they're challenging one another and answerable to one another, I'm talking about relative to their sexuality, we could shut some things down," he said. "And when I talk about the successes, which I don't take credit for, there is an army of young people who are keeping themselves sexually pure until marriage. And they don't mind people knowing that they're virgins."

Just as Sanger targeted African American pastors to encourage the use of artificial birth control within the black community, Culbreath said, black pastors can be the catalyst to ending the practice.

"Margaret Sanger, in her Negro Project of 1939, was successful at infiltrating the black community largely through black pastors and preachers. I believe that God wants to close that back door to our community by the same people group, the watchmen, that opened the door to the community," he said. "So if it was opened by black pastors and preachers, I believe black pastors and preachers are a significant people group."

As a co-founder of the California-based National Black Pro-Life Coalition, Culbreath will participate in two workshops and panel discussions at the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference, July 21–25 in Ridgecrest, N.C., to encourage the church to address the issue.

"We have such influence on any given Sunday morning. Any given Wednesday night, we're speaking to hundreds of thousands of people across this country. We could turn the tide on this issue," he said. "And that's one of the reasons the battle is so intense and so uphill, getting to these pastors and getting them to come forward and address the issue, because of the level of spiritual warfare that we're contending with. The enemy does not want them to get this information, because if the black community, the sleeping giant that it is, ever wakes up and begins contesting this issue, it's over. I believe that."

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)

7/21/2014 11:39:12 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Sanctity of human life in China

July 17 2014 by June Cheng, WNS/Baptist Press

When two pastors – one American, one Chinese – taught on the sanctity of life at a church in northern China, women and men of all ages stood up, sobbing and praying for forgiveness.

Repentance flowed in such words as “Lord, forgive me for aborting my child; I didn’t know it was murder. Lord, forgive me for shedding innocent blood.”

For most in the room, it was the first time they had seen photos of fetal development, learned about what abortion entails and studied what the Bible says about the sanctity of life.

A middle-aged Chinese woman, eyes watering, asked a visitor, “Where do the [aborted babies] go?” She confided, “I’ve had it done before and was wondering if I’d ever see them again.”

The babies go to heaven, she was told. “Oh, that’s so good to hear,” she replied.

Abortion in China is “as common as drinking water,” as one woman put it. The official tally of 13 million babies aborted each year is by far the highest in the world.

For many, abortion is viewed as the preferred method of birth control, with ubiquitous ads on buses and billboards touting quick, cheap and pain-free abortions. Few people, including Christians, are knowledgeable about life inside the womb or the abortion procedure, a fact attributed to China’s longstanding population control policies.

Yet it’s not just the one-child policy causing women to abort. More and more, single women are aborting, stemming from the clash between the younger generation’s lax view of sex and traditional stigmas against having children out of wedlock.

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Photo description
Central Intelligence Agency China Administrative Map


In the past few years, Chinese Christians are starting to take a stand for life, both by teaching about abortion from the pulpit and working with women to find oftentimes unconventional ways to protect life. Some originally hear the pro-life message from U.S.-based ministries, some through the Internet or overseas teachings, while others are convicted through reading the Bible. From there, the message has spread to tens of thousands of churches around the country, and resulted in mothers holding giggling babies that otherwise wouldn’t be born, women saved from forced abortions and churches growing stronger as they repent and help their own.

Yet few churches in China have heard what the Bible has to say about life, according to the pro-life group China Life Alliance (CLA). And with cultural, governmental and practical roadblocks hindering their message, the Chinese pro-life movement faces monumental challenges.


China’s illegal abortion clinics

Inside a dingy illegal medical clinic in southwest China, a female doctor brags about her experience performing abortions over the course of 40 years both at a hospital and at the clinic where she makes much more money. Next to an ill-lit room lined with thin, musty cots and IV stands, the doctor says it’s a very typical operation. One girl who had eight abortions is fine, the doctor asserts.

While China’s law forbids late-term abortions, the doctor said she would do an abortion regardless of the delivery date, “even if [the baby] comes out crying.” An abortion at three months costs merely 1,000 yuan ($160) and the patient can be in and out of the clinic in two hours.

The doctor opens a locked back room where the abortions are performed. It reeks of chemicals. In one corner stands a rusting operating chair with stirrups, which the doctor quickly walks toward to toss out blood-stained tissues from her last operation, performed on an 18-year-old who was five months pregnant. Tucked between a cot and table is an illegal ultrasound machine covered with a piece of cloth, which the abortionist uses to help determine the sex of the baby, although sex-selective abortions are illegal in China since the preference for sons has skewed the country’s sex ratio.

Authorities secretly appreciate these clinics, said Mark Li*, an American who founded CLA, because they lower the official number of abortions in the country. While the government counts 13 million abortions a year, Li said the actual number with unreported abortions could be as high as 30 million.

In China sex education is not taught in school, as teachers are embarrassed to discuss it. Parents also don’t talk to their families about sex, so children learn from media, including sexually explicit Western movies, music and TV shows. As a result, a large majority of Chinese engage in premarital sex.

For unmarried girls who get pregnant, abortion often seems like the only option. Unwed mothers bring shame to the families, so parents pressure their daughters to abort. If a single woman keeps her baby, she’s without a support system and could lose her job, get kicked out of school, and have difficulty getting married in the future. Also, the child would be unable to get hukou, or household registration that allows people to go to school, travel or get a job.

Placing the child for adoption also is difficult, as the government has restricted private adoptions, leaving only a complicated and arduous legal adoption process. So for many, the only solution is to slip over to a hospital, spend two hours and 1,000 yuan and return back to normal life, or go to an illegal clinic.

Under the one-child policy, married couples often see abortion as their only choice as well. While the law has become less strictly enforced in some areas – with exemptions for ethnic minorities and parents where one is a single child – couples who have a second child are often forced to pay a fine between three and 10 times the average after-tax income in the city where they live. For those who work at government-run workplaces, having a second child leads to job loss, as it sets a bad example for the rest of society. While the government officially bans forced abortions, the practice continues in rural areas where local officials don’t understand the law.


Carrying the message to churches

Even the Chinese church, which has been growing exponentially, has kept silent about abortion. Peter Wang*, a former house church pastor who now spends his time carrying the pro-life message to churches, said he’s met pastors who have participated in abortions themselves or given money to church members to help pay for their abortions. Some pastors keep quiet because they feel that the topic is too sensitive and don’t want another excuse for the government to persecute their church.

But lately the tide is turning, as more Christians see the need for a Chinese pro-life movement. Mark Li started the Christian Life Alliance in 2010 to create a decentralized network of churches and ministries to share the pro-life message and help women keep their babies.

CLA, by linking resources from the experienced pro-life movement in America to leaders of the Chinese church, has equipped local believers to start their own ministries. The group has launched a network of safe houses for pregnant women, abortion rescue teams, a Christian legal aid ministry, a Chinese resource website and a pregnancy help center. Li said that so far about 20,000 churches have heard the pro-life message. Each church that hears the message goes on to save two to five babies a year, he added.

CLA’s on-the-ground work is being done and funded by locals like Sarah Huang (name changed), a cheerful house church leader in her 30s. After almost aborting her son in 2012, she realized the importance of protecting life and started working for CLA. Since then she’s started her own one-woman ministry that has saved several dozen babies.

In a typical afternoon, Huang’s two cell phones ring continuously from mothers needing her help: “What do I do about my second baby?” “I’m pregnant and I don’t have money to take care of this child.” “The officials are forcing me to have an abortion, can you help?”

Most calls deal with one-child policy problems, and Huang assertively douses the fires by challenging churches to help families pay the fine, find safe houses to keep the pregnant woman away from the pressures of relatives, or threaten to report family-planning officials who continue to practice forced abortion. For those who still can’t pay the exorbitant fines, families can have the baby and then buy hukou registration for their child in the black market for a fraction of the official price.

Throughout the sprawling house church networks, leaders are rising up independently of any overseas ministries. Jonny Fan, a 27-year-old at the 500-member Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu, saw images of abortion on a blog in 2012 and felt convicted about China’s high abortion rate. For the past three years, Fan and other church members have distributed brochures urging mothers not to abort on June 1, which is Children’s Day. Using his background in marketing, Fan created polished pamphlets explaining the scope of abortion in China, the hope found in the gospel, and contact information for his church. Last year, he expanded his campaign to include bus ads, and authorities arrested him and a few others for printing unapproved material. This year, Fan printed 50,000 fliers for his church to distribute, and on church member was beaten by police officers for passing out the fliers.

At Early Rain, the focus on protecting life is noticeable in the number of families sitting in the service with two children. Fan said that most of the second children don’t have hukou, and they aren’t sure yet what they will do in the future. Besides buying hukou, families also can wait until the national census, when officials will sometimes register children for free to make their own job easier. One upside is that Early Rain has its own private Christian school and seminary, so the lack of hukou wouldn’t stop them from getting an education.

During the rest of the year, Fan leads a pro-life small group that focuses on educating church members about abortion and has expanded into adoption care. Last year, one church member distributing fliers outside a hospital convinced a young woman to keep her baby. Fan connected her with a family who was willing to adopt the child privately, and he realized this would be the next big need in his ministry.

His June 1 campaign has inspired others to use the day to talk about abortion. This year Peters and Wang started a month-long campaign ending June 1 to train church leaders to spread the word about abortion within their church networks. Wang estimated that about 8,200 pastors preached about abortion in their churches this year.

Fan said that while others have approached him asking about pro-life work, he’s not an expert, he’s just a Christian acting on his convictions.

“I do this because I see China’s rate of abortion is growing too fast; it’s frightening,” Fan said. “This is what I believe: We cannot murder. But Chinese people have sinned in this way. I don’t want to let the next generation live in an environment like this.”

*Name changed

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine [www.worldmag.com]. Used by permission.)

7/17/2014 11:23:09 AM by June Cheng, WNS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Baptist leaders comment on SCOTUS ruling

June 30 2014 by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (BP) -- The Supreme Court on Monday (June 30) struck down a key mandate of the Affordable Care Act, ruling for the first time "closely held" companies may exercise their religious opinions and conscientiously object to providing abortion-inducing contraceptives to employees through their health insurance plans.
 
Writing for the majority in Burwell (Sebelius) v. Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito claimed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) provides individually or family-owned businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, with protections against government mandates that violate religious conscience.
 
“Our responsibility is to enforce the RFRA as written, and under the standard the RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful,” Alito wrote. In finding in favor of Hobby Lobby, the Court affirmed the ruling of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and reversed the verdict of the Third Circuit.
 
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, shared his thoughts on the ruling. “We are indeed thankful for the recent ruling from the Supreme Court,” he said. “It is an absolute victory for the proponents of religious liberty. I am thankful that both common sense and conscience have seen a victory in a day where such victories are rare. For those who are strongly pro-life, I think this is a great day!”

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BP photo illustration
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission used a blue ribbon to promote prayer prior to the Supreme Court decision June 30 in the case involving Hobby Lobby. 

 

Ronnie Floyd, newly elected president of the SBC, added, “I am thrilled at the ruling because it affirms that religious liberty is a core value of our great nation. The American people won a great victory today against governmental overreach. It serves as a strong reminder to each of us, that the First Amendment extends to individuals and business owners, not just to churches and other houses of worship.”
 
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said the ruling was an “exhilarating victory for religious freedom,” due in large part to the fact Hobby Lobby owners David and Barbara Green, along with their children, had "refused to render to Caesar that which did not belong to him.”
 
“As a Baptist, I am encouraged that our ancestors' struggle for the First Amendment has been vindicated. This is as close as a Southern Baptist gets to dancing in the streets with joy,” Moore said.
 
Hobby Lobby filed suit in federal court after the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. Under the law, the company was required to provide insurance coverage for nearly 20 forms of contraception, including four that resulted in abortions. One of those was the “morning after pill,” which causes the spontaneous abortion of an implanted, fertilized egg. Since the company's owners believe life begins at conception, they objected on religious grounds and were threatened with massive fines for non-compliance with the ACA.
 
Mardel Christian Bookstores, founded by Mart Green, joined the case with Hobby Lobby, and in a separate case, Norman and Sam Hahn, owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, also challenged the ACA's contraceptive mandate in court.
 
Both Conestoga and Hobby Lobby lost their pleas for injunction in district court, and the Third Circuit upheld the denial of the injunctions. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reversed the decision, setting the cases on a path to the U.S. Supreme Court.
 
The government maintained throughout the proceedings at the Supreme Court that the federal government had a “compelling interest” in mandating the coverage of contraceptives. The Court, however, decided in a 5-4 decision there was no such interest when measured against the provisions of the RFRA.
 
“Congress provided protection for people like the Hahns and Greens by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA's definition of ‘persons.’ But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another,” Alito wrote.
 
“When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people. For example, extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company. Protecting corporations from government seizure of their property without just compensation protects all those who have a stake in the corporations' financial well-being. And protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.”
 
Alito also wrote that Hobby Lobby's Christian character was an inseparable part of the fabric of the company. The company's purpose statement commits its leaders to honoring the Lord and operating by a set of biblical principles, such as remaining closed on Sundays, refusing to facilitate or promote the use of alcohol, contributing to Christian ministries and missions and running newspaper advertisements with an evangelistic purpose.
 
Alito claimed the Greens -- and their companies Hobby Lobby and Mardel -- conduct business in this manner knowing “they will lose millions in sales annually by doing so.”
 
Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, issued a statement following the Supreme Court's decision. She said the family was pleased with the decision.
 
“Today the nation's highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country's founding principles,” Green said in her statement. “The Court's decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.”
 
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored the dissenting opinion on the Court. She claimed that, by the ruling of the majority, the Court had “ventured into a minefield” of questions about judging the merits of religious opinions. She also wrote she would have confined “religious exemptions under that Act to organizations formed ‘for a religious purpose,’ ‘engage primarily in carrying out that religious purpose,’ and not ‘engaged … substantially in the exchange of goods or services for money beyond nominal amounts.’”
 
Hobby Lobby was founded in 1970 in the Green family garage after the family borrowed $600 to manufacture miniature picture frames. Today, the company employs more than 13,000 in 572 stores across the nation. Mardel Christian Bookstores, founded in 1981, now has 35 locations in seven states. The company gives 10 percent of its corporate profits toward Bible translation.
 
The Greens have repeatedly attributed the success of their companies to the infusion of Christian principles in their business model.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.)

6/30/2014 3:58:18 PM by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



More than 700 saved in 40 Days

June 30 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (BP) -- More than 700 unborn children were saved from abortion during 40 Days for Life's fall campaign.
 
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As of Nov. 16, the 40 Days staff had received reports of 732 unborn babies protected from abortion during its latest campaign, Sept. 28 to Nov. 6. More than 5,000 unborn children have been saved from abortion since the 40 Days effort began in Texas in 2004. The effort went national in 2007.
 
The semi-annual campaign -- which focuses on peaceful, pro-life prayer vigils outside abortion clinics -- was held this fall at a record 301 sites in the United States and overseas.
 
Among the reports received from participants in the latest campaign:
  • In Sharonville, Ohio, a woman stopped in her car and spoke to a 40 Days volunteer outside an abortion clinic. "She thanked me for praying," the participant said. "She said that a few days earlier she was driving by and was considering an abortion. She has five boys and is pregnant with a girl. Her husband of 20-plus years has left her." She told the 40 Days participant, "Never feel that what you are doing is in vain. It was your prayers that changed my mind and saved my little girl and me."
  • In Austin, Texas, a teenage couple went to a clinic for an abortion they hoped to obtain by means of a judicial bypass that would enable the girl to avoid informing her parents. A 40 Days participant told them about their unborn child's development and the alternatives and resources that were available. They entered the abortion clinic, however, only to leave shortly thereafter "with smiles of joy and satisfaction. They decided to not have an abortion," the volunteer said.
(EDITOR'S NOTE - Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
6/30/2014 1:15:55 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Abortion protest buffer zone struck down

June 27 2014 by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press

The Supreme Court on Thursday (June 26) unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law which prohibited anti-abortion protests on public sidewalks within 35 feet of an abortion clinic or hospital.

According to the Court’s ruling in McCullen v. Coakley, the 35-foot “buffer zone” became law in 2007 without evidence abortion protesters had impeded access to abortion clinics and with the particular purpose of silencing the political, religious or moral viewpoint of those who oppose abortion.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the Court’s opinion, wrote Massachusetts had violated the First Amendment by “the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes.”
 

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Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Commission said he was thankful the Court made the right decision, “recognizing freedom of speech and freedom of dissent.”

“Those of us who are pro-life have constitutional guarantees embedded in the First Amendment, along with everyone else,” Moore said. “This was a good decision, and I am cheered that it was a unanimous decision.”

Massachusetts amended its Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act in 2007 to criminalize the protests near a “public way or sidewalk,” but the act exempted multiple classes of citizens, including employees or agents of the facility “acting within the scope of their employment.” They were allowed to express opinions within the buffer zone, such as telling potential patients to ignore the protesters.

Abortion protestors sued, claiming violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Eleanor McCullen, who filed the case, saw the challenge to the law dismissed by the District Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals. When the case reached the Supreme Court, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts argued the “frenetic activity” caused by abortion protesters threatened public safety.

The Court, even while acknowledging the need for public order, rejected that notion citing the few arrests over the years since the law has been in effect. Roberts also noted the non-confrontational nature of distributing anti-abortion literature.

The Court ruled constitutional protections of speech could not be extended to some citizens and not others who, in this case, conducted “side-walk counseling” in an effort to change women’s opinions on abortion before a procedure.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor joined Roberts in his opinion. Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia filed concurring opinions.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Scalia wrote “the obvious purpose of the challenged portion of the Massachusetts Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act is to ‘protect’ prospective clients of abortion clinics from having to hear abortion-opposing speech on public streets and sidewalks. The provision is thus unconstitutional root and branch and cannot be saved, as the majority suggests, by limiting its application to the single facility that has experienced the safety and access problems to which it is quite obviously not addressed.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.)

6/27/2014 12:20:17 PM by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Court backs pro-life ads as free speech

June 17 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A national pro-life organization has gained a victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in its challenge to a state law it says restricts free speech.

The justices unanimously ruled June 16 the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) had demonstrated that an Ohio prohibition on “false statement[s]” during an election campaign injured the pro-life organization. The SBA List and another organization thereby can go forward with their lawsuit, they said. The high court returned the combined case to a federal judge for a ruling in keeping with its opinion.

The SBA List ran ads during the 2010 election campaign asserting Rep. Steve Driehaus, a Democrat, voted for “taxpayer-funded abortion” when he supported the health-care reform law enacted earlier in the year. It also sought to rent billboards in his Ohio district to communicate that message. Driehaus, who described himself as pro-life, denied the measure funded abortions and filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission. Before the November election, the panel found probable cause that the SBA List had violated the “false statement[s]” prohibition.

The SBA List and the country’s other major pro-life organizations sharply disagreed with Driehaus, contending the new law authorized federal funding of abortion and/or federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion. The National Right to Life Committee and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops undergirded their positions in detailed documents.

Driehaus dropped his complaint after he lost his race for re-election, but the SBA List continued with a suit it had filed before the election. The pro-life organization alleged its free speech had been chilled and it faced the likelihood that its rights to free speech and association would again be “chilled and burdened.” A federal court combined the challenge with one brought by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes but dismissed the suits, ruling neither offered a “sufficiently concrete injury for purposes of standing or ripeness.” The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati affirmed the decision.

The SBA List welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling in its favor as a “step toward victory for the freedom of speech.”

“The truth or falsity of political speech should be judged by voters, not government bureaucrats,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a written statement.

“It is beyond dispute that Obamacare contains multiple abortion-funding provisions,” she said, adding SBA List “is now one step closer in its quest to unleash the First Amendment from the constraints imposed by Ohio’s unconstitutional false speech statute.”

David Cortman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a written release, “The First Amendment forbids government from acting as a ‘truth commission’ on matters of public debate. The U.S. Supreme Court has rightfully upheld the freedom of Americans to speak in accordance with their views by allowing them to challenge laws that silence them. The Susan B. Anthony List’s warnings about abortion funding in Obamacare were objectively true. If that fact was part of what cost this congressman his job, that’s because his constituents, like most Americans, reject taxpayer-funded abortion.”

Writing for the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas said the Ohio commission’s proceedings were burdensome for the SBA List with the “additional threat of criminal prosecution.”

“As long as the petitioners continue to engage in comparable electoral speech regarding support for the [Affordable Care Act], that speech will remain arguably proscribed by Ohio’s false statement statute,” Thomas wrote.

The SBA List’s “insistence that the allegations in its press release were true did not prevent the Commission panel from finding probable cause to believe that SBA had violated the law the first time around,” he wrote. “And, there is every reason to think that similar speech in the future will result in similar proceedings, notwithstanding SBA’s belief in the truth of its allegations.”

The case is SBA List v. Driehaus.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

6/17/2014 11:04:32 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Texas abortion law clears latest hurdle

April 3 2014 by Jerry Pierce, TEXAN/Baptist Press

A Texas law passed last summer that tightened the state’s abortion regulations has been upheld by the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The much-anticipated ruling from the three-judge panel in New Orleans was unanimous.

In a Jan. 6 hearing, the tone of questions from the judges had hinted they were skeptical of arguments that the law placed an undue burden on women seeking abortions.

Last October, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel struck two down requirements in Texas House Bill 2: that abortion doctors have hospital privileges within 30 miles of their clinics and that a physician be present to monitor administration of abortion-causing drugs, such as mifepristone, commonly known as RU-486. Yeakel ruled that the requirements placed an unconstitutional “substantial obstacle” to abortion.

The bill also outlawed abortions beyond 20 weeks post-fertilization.

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The law is being challenged by a group of Planned Parenthood affiliates, several other abortion providers and three Texas physicians who have argued, among other things, that the hospital admitting requirements will close clinics and reduce access to abortions. The Dallas Morning News reported that 13 of the state’s 37 abortions clinics have closed since the law was passed, including the only two serving a four-county area of the Rio Grande Valley.

Judge Edith Jones, writing on behalf of the appeals court March 27, said “an increase in travel of less than 150 miles for some women is not an undue burden” and that of 254 Texas counties, only 13 of them had abortion facilities before HB 2 became law. Furthermore, the “burden does not fall on the vast majority of Texas women seeking abortions,” Jones wrote.

The court also found that the hospital privileges requirement met the legal test of being “rationally related to a legitimate state interest” in protecting women.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican candidate for governor, said in a statement after the ruling: “This unanimous decision is a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women.”

Pro-life groups also hailed the ruling.

“We are pleased that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with the overwhelming majority of the Texas Legislature that the state has a right to increase safety standards at abortion facilities to protect the health and safety of women,” Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, said.

Kyleen Wright, executive director of Texans for Life, said via Twitter: “Happiness is 3 brilliant women on the 5th Circ! Justices Jones, Elrod & Haynes rock. #WomenRule #HB2 #Stand4Life.”

Abortion advocates, meanwhile, vowed to keep fighting.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement: “We will combat these laws in the courts, and our separate political arm will mobilize voters to replace lawmakers who champion these dangerous laws in the first place.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, who argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the appeals court “has turned a blind eye to the very real and devastating consequences that this law has had on thousands of Texas women, erecting barriers to abortion so high that women are simply left with no legal or safe options.”

Northup said her group is “considering every necessary step to end this health crisis and restore the essential health care that has been unconstitutionally stripped away.”

In November, the U.S. Supreme Court declined, by a 5-4 margin, to intervene in the case, placing the law back in the hands of the appeals court.

But many believe the Supreme Court eventually will take it up. Stephen Breyer, one of the four liberal justices on the High Court, wrote of the hospital privileges requirement back in November that it is “a difficult question. It is a question, I believe, that at least four Members of this Court will wish to consider irrespective of the Fifth Circuit’s ultimate decision.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN [www.texanonline.net], newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)
4/3/2014 12:49:49 PM by Jerry Pierce, TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



End-of-life ethics examined by panel

April 1 2014 by Marilyn Stewart, Baptist Press

A Baptist seminary leader joined a special panel at Loyola University New Orleans to discuss end-of-life cases that have sparked national debate.

Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and bioethicist, was among the panelists for the discussion titled “Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Decides?”

The group covered the cases of Jahi McMath, a 13-year-old girl placed on a ventilator following complications from tonsil and nasal surgery, and Marlise Munoz, a young mother declared brain dead but kept on life support for two months for the sake of her 14-week-old fetus.

The Center for Medical Ethics of the Louisiana Right to Life Federation sponsored the event. Other panelists included: Jennifer Popik, with National Right to Life; Jeff White, cardiologist and hospital system ethics director and Kevin Wildes, president of Loyola University.

Popik cited a study by the American Academy of Neurology that indicated, while the protocol for declaring brain death varies widely from state to state and hospital to hospital, an average hospital determines brain death as many as 50 times a year.

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Steve Lemke (second from left), provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and bioethicist, was among panelists to address end-of-life cases that have sparked national debate. The panel discussion was titled “Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Decides?”

“[Cases like these] may push hospitals to develop a criteria,” Popik said during the March 19 panel discussion.


Defining brain death

Brain death is the total and irreversible cessation of the entire brain, including the brain stem, and is determined by a complete examination using a set of diagnostic criteria and not by a single test, such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) or an electroencephalogram (EEG), White explained.

“The science of brain death is very good. The concept of brain death is well-founded scientifically,” he said.

Jahi McMath was declared brain dead on Dec. 12, 2013, after three neurologists confirmed she was unable to breathe on her own, had no blood flow to her brain, and showed no sign of electrical activity in the brain.

When McMath’s family refused to remove the ventilator, a legal agreement was eventually forced requiring that a death certificate be issued by the Alameda County, Calif., coroner’s office before the patient was moved to an undisclosed facility where life support continues.

White said families sometimes have trouble accepting a doctor’s verdict because a patient on life support has a heartbeat, breathes and feels warm to the touch.

Wilde added that the issue is compounded in today’s society because death is often not discussed. Families also rarely witness the stages of death with a loved one, as in the past.

Lemke agreed, saying families used to care for patients in their final days at home and watched their loved ones struggle for longer periods of time. Because medical personnel today provide end-of-life care, the family is often removed from that struggle.

“We’re isolated and insulated from the reality of death, so when death comes it is all-the-more shocking and we are all-the-more ill-prepared for it,” Lemke said.

And with medical advances and prolonged life, Lemke said, “All these things together may make death a much more difficult experience in our day than perhaps in the past.”

Pregnancy and brain death

Marlise Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed in the middle of the night at her Ft. Worth, Texas, home in November 2013. Shortly after admission to the hospital, Munoz was pronounced brain dead.

Texas law prohibits the removal of life support from a pregnant patient until fetus viability at 23 weeks. The hospital continued support and a month later, Munoz’ husband sued to remove support. A judge ruled in his favor on Jan. 24, 2014, stating that the fetus was abnormal and not viable, and that women had a right to end pregnancies if they wished.

While the law seeks to balance the rights of individuals, Popik argued the mother’s rights were extinguished when she was pronounced brain dead.

“So what’s going on here that the rights of the [unborn] child were so lost in the dialogue?” Popik asked.

White noted that the Texas law was meant to protect the fetus when the mother was in a vegetative state and did not apply to a patient declared brain dead.

According to a Jan. 28, 2014 NPR article reporting on the case, the authors of the bill “intended to keep a pregnant woman who was in a persistent vegetative state on a ventilator until she could deliver, but not a dead pregnant woman,” and insisted the hospital had misinterpreted the law.

While the Munoz case was in the news earlier this year, a similar story previously unfolded in Canada.

Robyn Benson of British Columbia was declared brain dead at 22 weeks into her pregnancy. Life support continued and her healthy but premature son was delivered at 27 weeks. Benson died the next day.

Analysts of the Munoz and Benson cases point out that the hospital had declared the Munoz fetus not viable, while the Benson fetus was determined to be normal.

Lemke told the audience that in his ethics classes at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary he presents another case study similar to the Munoz and Benson cases. In that case, the judge allowed life support to continue, ruling that the state has an interest in the next generation of its citizens, and asking poignantly, “Who speaks for the fetus?”


Preparing for the unexpected

While it can be difficult to craft an advance directive for medical needs that covers a wide range of scenarios and circumstances, certain guidelines are helpful, Lemke said:
  • Put an advanced directive in writing that expresses the general guidelines. This is very helpful guidance for family and medical staff.
  • Ask a hospital official or attorney the language of a standard “boiler plate” advanced directive, then personalize it.
  • Prepare for unanticipated circumstances by appointing a surrogate decision maker with the medical power of attorney who can make decisions that follow general guidelines.
  • Allowing organ donation is a separate issue but should be expressed in an advanced directive.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marilyn Steward is a writer based in New Orleans. She is a frequent contributor to the Louisiana Baptist Message and The Times-Picayune.)
4/1/2014 11:21:06 AM by Marilyn Stewart, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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