White Paper

Whole Woman’s Health v. Smith Supreme Court cert denied 2/19/19

Apr 9, 2019

In February, the Supreme Court declined to review the petition for writ of certiorari in Whole Woman’s Health v. The Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Supreme Court’s denial of review means the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Smith remains intact. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision and affirmed the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (“TCCB”) privilege under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). In its decision, the Fifth Circuit cited ERLC’s amicus brief, which ERLC filed in conjunction with the National Association of Evangelicals.

The main issue in this case was whether a federal court could force a religious organization to disclose confidential, internal documents that detailed theological and moral deliberations between church leaders and TCCB members. The district court ruled that it could, which would have forced TCCB to hand over these sensitive documents. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit disagreed. Reversing the decision of the lower court, the Fifth Circuit held that doing so would be a violation of the First Amendment Religion Clauses, RFRA, and Rule 45(d) of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. The Fifth Circuit ultimately ruled that religious organizations were entitled to “maintain their internal organizational autonomy.” Judge Ho’s concurrence affirmed that the Bishops were protected to “express their profound objection to the moral tragedy of abortion by offering free burial services for fetal remains.”

ERLC Legal Intern Ronia Dubbaneh contributed to this report.

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