U.S. Supreme Court hears case on Texas abortion law

March 3, 2016

After three years of back-and-forth court decisions, the legal challenge to a Texas law regulating abortion procedures and their providers was finally heard by the U.S. Supreme Court March 2. The court’s decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, though not precedent setting, could have ramifications on other pro-life legislation across the country.

The Supreme Court hearing of Texas House Bill 2 brings full circle what began in Texas more than four decades ago when the court’s Roe v. Wade decision conferred a constitutional right to an abortion. WWH v. Hellerstedt is considered one of the greatest challenges to elements of that law in almost 25 years.

If upheld, HB 2 could indirectly impact similar laws around the country. Without a majority decision—an unlikely outcome with the current eight-justice panel—the best-case scenario for pro-life advocates is a 4-4 tie, which would merely uphold the law and not give legal precedent for similar laws. Abortion advocates decry the law as a thinly veiled attempt to shutter clinics and end all abortion access in Texas. The bill’s proponents argue the measure raises the standard of care for women. The eight justices must decide whether the rationale of the law justifies any restrictions it may impose on a woman’s access to an abortion. Their decision is due in June.

A black-draped bench where the late Justice Antonin Scalia once sat served to remind all present that the most significant abortion-related case to come before the court in decades was being heard without the high court’s most ardently pro-life justice.

Texas Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Murphy, author of HB 2, was not without hope.

“My feeling is God didn’t take us this far to say, ‘This is the end of the line,’” she told the TEXAN in a phone interview prior to the hearing. “As much as I will miss Scalia on the court, the end decision is God’s decision.”

Laubenberg watched from the Supreme Court gallery as the law she drafted was defended by Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller and opposed by Stephanie Toti of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Laubenberg was part of a four-member Texas delegation that included Gov. Greg Abbot, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Leslie French, Texas Health and Human Services Women’s Health Coordinator.

John Seago, Texas Right to Life legislative director, attended the hearing and told the TEXAN Keller grounded the state’s argument on the last abortion case to go before the Supreme Court, Gonzalez v. Carhart, in 2007. In that case involving a congressional ban on partial-birth abortion, the justices ruled it was not the court’s role to determine the medical necessity of a law. Rather, they must discern whether a state legislature or Congress could prove the necessity of the law outweighed the burden it might impose in its implementation.

Seago said Keller kept driving the point that, per Carhart, the court had no role in determining the medical necessity of HB 2. Justice Samuel Alito pressed the question as well, Seago said. Most encouraging were similar questions from Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is seen as the swing vote in this case.

But the liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg repeatedly challenged Keller to defend the medical necessity of the law.

“That’s what is most worrisome,” Seago said, noting he feared some justices want to redefine the role of the court to allow it to go outside the bounds of the Constitution in making judgments.

Outside the court room conflicting rallies championed their causes. Seago said pro-life advocates were far outnumbered by pro-choice activists who appeared to have been bussed in for the event.

Before HB 2 went into effect in 2014, about 40 abortion clinics operated in Texas. Within weeks of its passage in July 2013, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit challenging two of the law’s four regulations—the administration of abortion-inducing medication and the requirement that clinic’s abortion doctors have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the clinic. A federal judge struck down the law, but the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit upheld it. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case and Planned Parenthood did not press the issue.

In April 2014 Amy Hagstrom Miller, owner of Whole Women’s Health, a chain of abortion clinics, filed suit challenging the regulations requiring abortion clinics meet the ambulatory surgical center (ASC) standards and the admitting privileges for just two Texas clinics, one in El Paso and one in McAllen. Planned Parenthood did not join the suit.

By the time WWH v. Hellerstedt was argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit, the number of abortion clinics had dwindled to about 10. The appellate court upheld HB 2 with one exception—the abortion facility in McAllen would not be held to the admitting privileges requirement. Miller appealed her case to the Supreme Court in June 2015. In agreeing to hear the case, the court put a stay on implementation of HB 2, allowing non-compliant clinics to remain open until the case is decided in June.

Since the passage of HB 2, abortion rights activists have sought to win their case in the court of public opinion arguing the law would shutter clinics and drastically hinder women from “reproductive health care,” a euphemistic term for abortion.

In response to that claim and withdrawal of Medicaid funds from abortion-providing health clinics, the State of Texas established the Women’s Health Care program. Medicaid-approved women seeking reproductive health care can access any of the 4,780 providers at 1,096 clinics across the state. Women can receive the same—or in some instances more—care they would be missing with the closure of the few dozen Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics across the state.

Laubenberg, who does not shrink from her pro-life convictions, called the accusations “absurd,” noting abortion industry giant Planned Parenthood has built new clinics in Texas per the HB 2 regulations since the law went into effect in 2014.

One Planned Parenthood abortion facility is opening in San Antonio in direct competition with the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Whole Women’s Health.

That point was not missed by Keller. He told the court that abortion providers are building clinics in Texas according to the regulations they once decried as harmful to the industry.

Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie reports on First Amendment freedoms for WORLD Digital. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24