The U.S. Supreme Court’s own decisions and the need for states to protect women’s lives call for the justices to uphold a Texas law that regulates abortion doctors and clinics, according to two Southern Baptist entities and other religious organizations.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) joined the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) and four other groups in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Feb. 1 with the high court. The brief urges the justices to affirm a Texas measure that requires an abortion doctor to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital in case a woman needs emergency admission. The law also mandates abortion clinics must meet the health and safety standards of other walk-in surgical centers.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 2 to decide if the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans was correct in upholding most of the Texas measure.
If upheld by the high court over the objections of abortion rights organizations, the law would reduce the number of abortion facilities in Texas from what had been about 40 to fewer than 10. Such a decision by the justices also would have an impact in other states that have similar laws.
Southern Baptist leaders expressed their hopes the Supreme Court would find the law constitutional.
“The abortion lobby’s resistance to common-sense accountability measures should alarm everyone, on both sides of the political aisle,” ERLC President Russell Moore said. “Abortion activists have claimed for years that protecting women from harm is their primary goal, but they are certainly on the wrong side of women’s health on this issue.”
His prayer, Moore said, is the court “will recognize the reasonableness of Texas’ measures and defend women and families.”
Gary Ledbetter of the SBTC, which supported the legislation during debate in the state, said the law “recognizes the right, even the obligation, of the state of Texas to regulate medical procedures in order to ensure a high level of care for all patients, without regard to the nature of their procedures.”
“Abortion providers seem to believe that they should be exempt from regulation because it would make a hardship on their ability to make a profit,” said Ledbetter, the SBTC’s director of communications and ministry relationships. “Pro-life Americans reject this argument of those with a financial interest in being sheltered from reasonable regulation.”
The brief, written by lawyers for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), contends the law is consistent with Supreme Court decisions for more than four decades that give states the authority to protect the lives and health of women seeking abortions. Even the Roe v. Wade opinion, which legalized abortion in 1973, said states may adopt standards for abortion doctors and clinics, the brief offers. The brief quotes Roe:
“The State has a legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortion, like any other medical procedure, is performed under circumstances that insure maximum safety for the patient. This interest obviously extends at least to the performing physician and his staff, to the facilities involved, to the availability of aftercare, and to adequate provision for any complication or emergency that might arise.”
The 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling – which permitted state regulations if they did not place an “undue burden” on women – “allows even greater regulation of abortion to protect maternal life and health,” the organizations contend in the brief. “To hold that states may not enact measures like the Texas law challenged here would be a betrayal of over 40 years of precedent,” they say.
The brief also points to what it calls “ample evidence” that the requirements for doctors and clinics that safeguard women’s health and lives.
“[W]ith regard to health and safety standards, the interests of abortion providers and patients do not coincide and, to some extent, are adverse,” the brief says. “Providers have a direct economic interest in avoiding the time and expense needed to comply with health and safety standards. Patients, on the other hand, have an obvious interest in their own safety and in not having their health compromised by any procedure.”
Advantages to requiring physicians to have admitting privileges include credentialing for the doctors and avoiding delays in hospitalization if there are problems, according to the brief.
The recommendation of the National Abortion Federation is more stringent than the Texas law, the brief points out. The association of abortion providers calls for doctors to be able to admit patients to a hospital no more than 20 minutes away, while Texas requires a hospital to be within 30 miles of the abortion clinic.
Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading abortion provider, has acknowledged at least 210 women a year are hospitalized in Texas after seeking an abortion, the brief says.
Also signing onto the brief were the National Association of Evangelicals, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Texas Catholic Conference.
An opinion in the case, which is Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, is expected before the court ends its term in late June or early July.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)