By / Jan 3

From 2010 to 2019, abortion continued to be one of the most divisive issues in America. Here are seven of the most important events related to abortion over the last decade.

1. The Kermit Gosnell scandal

In January 2011, late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell was charged with eight counts of murder for a patient who died under his care after a botched abortion, and seven infants born alive whose spinal cords Gosnell allegedly severed with scissors.

According to the original grand jury report, the clinic reeked of animal urine, and the furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Medical instruments found in the practice had not been properly sterilized. State officials had failed to visit or inspect his abortion clinic since 1993.

In 2013, Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder. Despite the gruesome nature of the story, Gosnell’s arrest and trial received almost no coverage by the national media.

2. Supreme Court overturns law on abortion regulations

In 2016, the Supreme Court issued one of the most significant rulings on abortion in decades. The Court ruled in a 5-3 decision on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt to overturn state laws designed to regulate abortion clinics in a way that would protect women’s health.

After the Gosnell scandal created an awareness of the unsafe, unsanitary, and largely unregulated conditions in abortion clinics in America, the State of Texas passed House Bill 2, which mandated that abortion facilities adhere to ambulatory surgical center requirements common to most outpatient facilities, and required abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility to be able to handle emergencies when something goes wrong. Whole Woman's Health, an abortion provider in Texas, challenged the law in federal court, claiming it was expensive, not medically necessary, and interfered with women's health care.

3. Undercover videos revealed Planned Parenthood sold aborted fetal organs

Beginning in July 2015, the Center for Medical Progress began releasing a series of videos that showed national-level executives of Planned Parenthood admitting that the abortion provider sells intact fetal body parts. The videos shocked the conscience of many Americans—and many more were shocked to learn the practice is legal under current federal law.

While no one from Planned Parenthood was ever charged with a crime, a jury recently handed down a multimillion-dollar verdict against David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress. Planned Parenthood had sued Daleiden for fraud, invasion of privacy, and trespassing.

“This lawsuit is payback for David Daleiden exposing Planned Parenthood’s dirty business of buying and selling fetal parts and organs,” said Peter Breen, lead defense attorney of the Thomas More Society in Chicago. “Rather than face up to its heinous doings, Planned Parenthood chose to persecute the person who exposed it.”

4. Taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood

Throughout the first half of the decade, Planned Parenthood received over a half billion dollars in government funding each year—an average of $60,319 every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Republican lawmakers made various attempts to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion, but their efforts were blocked by Democrats. Funding disagreements between Republican legislators and the White House even threatened to lead to a government shutdown in 2011, and President Obama repeatedly threatened to veto bills aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood.

Several states also attempted to defund the abortion provider. In 2011, Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) signed a law to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving any Medicaid funding from the state of Indiana. Soon after, lawmakers in Arizona, North Carolina, Kansas, Tennessee, and Texas also attempted to exclude funding of the abortion provider from their states’ pools of public insurance providers.

In response, the federal courts have blocked all of those efforts, ruling that states cannot deny women access to providers who meet the federal requirements to qualify for Medicaid. (Planned Parenthood is classified as a “qualified medical provider” and is thus eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.)

In 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new final rule to reinstate Title X regulations that separate taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. The new rule shifts funding from abortion providers—such as Planned Parenthood—and steers some of it toward faith-based care providers.

5. Democratic party codifies support for unlimited abortion

In 2016, the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee released the 2016 platform which called for increased access to abortion, including federal taxpayer funding and opposing efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. The Democratic National Committee said that the proposal “goes further than previous Democratic platforms on women’s reproductive rights.”

The new wording of the Democratic platform states:

Democrats are committed to protecting and advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice. We believe unequivocally that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured. We believe that reproductive health is core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing. We will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide critical health services to millions of people. We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment. We need to defend the ACA, which extends affordable preventive health care to women, including no-cost contraception, and prohibits discrimination in health care based on gender.

A significant new change is an expressed determination to overturn the Hyde Amendment, a legislative addendum that in various forms has been routinely attached to annual appropriations bills since 1976. The Hyde Amendment prohibits any federal funds from being used to directly pay for abortions.

6. The HHS Contraceptive-Abortifacient Mandate

To fulfill the requirements of the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka ObamaCare), the federal government passed a regulation (often called the “HHS Mandate”) that attempted to force groups into providing insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients.

Some religious groups, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and Wheaton College, objected on the grounds that the requirement violates their religious liberty as protected by the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). HHS offered an accommodation that the Little Sisters found to be insufficient.

In 2016, the Supreme Court avoided issuing a major ruling today in a combined religious liberty case, Zubik v. Burwell. In a unanimous decision, the justices wrote that the Court “expresses no view on the merits of the cases” but were instead sending the case back down to the lower courts for opposing parties to work out a compromise.

The Trump administration attempted to expand the exemption for the contraceptive mandate, but those are now been blocked throughout the U.S. by the federal courts.

7. State level restrictions on abortion

Throughout the decade, individual states passed laws to increase restrictions on abortion.

Some states attempted to limit abortion to the first trimester, such as Missouri’s ban on abortion after eight weeks, but all such efforts were rebuffed by the courts. More than a dozen states also attempted to implement “fetal heartbeat” legislation, which bans abortions within a state after the point where the heartbeat can be detected.

Several states also prepared for the day when Roe v. Wade is overturned and the issue will once again be decided at the state level. For example, earlier this year Tennessee signed a “trigger law” that would criminalize abortion after Roe while New York passed a law to remove any restrictions on abortion.

By / Mar 8

Editor’s note: This is the tenth article in a monthly series on what Christians should know about bioethics.

What is an abortifacient?

An abortifacient is a chemical or drug that causes embryonic death by either killing the child directly or by preventing implantation in the uterine lining of the embryonic child. The term abortifacient means “that which will cause a miscarriage” (derived from the Latin abortus (miscarriage) and faciens (making).

How do abortifacients differ from contraceptives?

The purpose of contraceptives is to prevent conception (hence the term “contra”— against—conception). The scientific understanding of contraception is that it occurs at fertilization. The historical meaning of contraceptive—and the one still used by pro-lifers—is methods that prevent fertilization.

However, in 1972 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists change the definition of conception to mean implantation of the embryo into the wall of the mother’s uterus. As physician Meghan Best explains, under the new definition, any device that prevented the embryo from implanting in the uterus could be marketed as a contraceptive.

“This change of definition means there are two classes of contraceptives,” says Dr. Best, “those that work before fertilization, the classic definition, and prevent the sperm from joining with the egg; and those that cause an early abortion by acting after fertilization.”

What this means is that some, but not all, contraceptives may have an abortifacient effect. Obviously, barrier contraceptives, such as condoms or diaphragms, which place a physical obstruction between the sperm and the egg are not abortifacients. Some devices considered contraceptives—such as the IUD or intrauterine device—are highly likely to be abortifacients because their primary function is to prevent implantation.

But there are some oral contraceptives—“the Pill”—that may or may not have an abortifacient effect. As Dr. Best explains:

There are three known actions by which the pill prevents pregnancy:

1.    The pill suppresses ovulation (egg production);

2.    The pill makes it difficult for the sperm to move through the cervix; and

3.    The pill makes the lining of the womb thinner and hostile to the embryo implanting.

The first two actions are not controversial, as they obviously just stop egg and sperm from getting together. They are acting before fertilization. The concern is the third effect. Some Christians have argued that if the first and second mechanisms fail, so that an egg is produced and sperm do get through the cervix, then an embryo could form. If this was the case and the womb was not prepared for the embryo to implant and develop, it would put the pill into the second contraceptive category of abortifacients.

However, I think there is better evidence that if the first and second mechanisms fail and an embryo is formed, then we would also expect the third mechanism to fail (as they come as a package—all or none) and you would not have an abortion, but an unplanned pregnancy. There are disagreements about the reliability of the evidence both sides claim to support their arguments. The definitive research needed to decide the issue once and for all has not, and probably will never be, done.

Are “emergency contraceptives” abortifacients?

Emergency contraception—sometimes also known as the “morning after pill”—is a method of contraception that is taken after sexual intercourse with the intention of preventing pregnancy.

There are three main types of emergency contraception approved for use in the United States. The first type uses Levonorgestrel (Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, After Pill, Take Action, and My Way). As with oral contraception, it is unclear whether this drug has an abortifacient effect.

The second type uses Ulipristal acetate (ella), which is suspected of having an abortifacient effect.

The third type is the copper T IUD, which is also suspected of having an abortifacient effect.

Are abortifacients used to induce abortions?

The two broad methods for legal abortions in the U.S. are medical and surgical. A medical abortion (sometimes referred to as a medication abortion, chemical abortion, or pharmaceutical abortion) is a method that uses an abortifacient to stimulate uterine contractions and end the pregnancy in a process similar to miscarriage.

The FDA approved method for chemical abortions is a two-step process involving the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone (brand name Mifeprex) ends a pregnancy by blocking the hormone progesterone, which is needed to maintain a pregnancy. Because this hormone is blocked, the uterine lining begins to shed, removing the child (in the embryonic state) that was attached. The second step, which occurs 24 to 48 hours later, requires taking misoprostol which causes the woman to expel the child and the uterine lining in a matter similar to a miscarriage.

What is RU-486?

The most common drug used for medical abortion is Mifeprex, the brand name for mifepristone, a drug that was formerly known as RU-486. The drug was developed in France in the 1980s and banned by President George H.W. Bush Administration’s FDA in 1989. In 1993, President Bill Clinton asked the FDA to review the ban, which was lifted in 2000.

Currently, the drug is approved by the FDA provided it is “dispensed in certain healthcare settings, specifically, clinics, medical offices and hospitals, by or under the supervision of a certified prescriber.” In 2016, the FDA extended the time the abortion pill could be taken to 70 days into a pregnancy. (Despite how the name might sound—“Are you for 86?” (“86” being slang for ejecting something or someone—RU-486 was derived from the initials of the French pharmaceutical company that patented the drug (Roussel Uclaf) and the serial number (486).)

Are abortifacients dangerous to women?

As Americans United for Life notes, numerous, well-documented studies in peer-reviewed medical journals have demonstrated that chemical abortions pose significant medical risks for women. A review of nearly 7,000 abortions performed in Australia in 2009 and 2010 found that 3.3 percent of patients who used mifepristone in the first trimester required emergency hospital treatment, in contrast to 2.2 percent of patients who underwent surgical abortions.

Women receiving chemical abortions were also admitted to hospitals at a rate of 5.7 percent following the abortion, as compared with 0.4 percent for patients undergoing surgical abortion. Another study revealed that the overall incidence of immediate adverse events is fourfold higher for chemical abortions than for surgical abortions.

By / Oct 6

It has been a great week for religious freedom – the protection for the conscience rights of every American of every faith and the free exercise thereof. Earlier this week, the Senate Foreign Relations committee held its hearing for Gov. Sam Brownback to become the next Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. And today, the Department of Health and Human Services finally provided new rules that exempt the Little Sisters of the Poor, our fellow Baptist universities and organizations, and many other entities of many faiths who objected to the Obama era regulations forcing them to participate in health insurance policies that provide abortion-causing drugs.

Also today, the Department of Justice issued wide-ranging legal guidance that directs every part of our federal government to respect and protect our most fundamental freedoms. It’s no coincidence that this legal shift comes the same day as the Department of Health and Human Services finally provided relief from the contraception mandate to those who faithfully dissent.

We are thankful for the priority this Administration placed on religious freedom when President Trump signed Executive Order No. 13798 earlier this year.  The Department of Justice’s legal memo today is the implementation and enforcement mechanism of that Executive order.

The free exercise of religion is America’s first freedom for a reason. A state that can pave over the conscience rights of any American’s beliefs is a state that can do anything. This guidance from the Department of Justice lays out the bedrock principle of freedom and places it back in the national dialogue. We welcome a continued substantive discussion about religious liberty, because we believe that religious liberty is in the best interest of all Americans.

The legal memo lays out 20 principles of religious liberty and provides instructions for federal agencies to ensure these principles are protected and implemented throughout the government. These principles are consistent with the religious liberty guidance the ERLC provided the Trump Administration earlier this year, which urged them to, among other things:

  • Issue explicit guidance from the Attorney General to the Treasury Department to prohibit the revocation of tax exempt status to an organization based on its religious beliefs;
  • Encourage the Department of Health & Human Services to issue the draft interim final rule providing relief to the contraceptive mandate;
  • Ensure a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) analysis is articulated in the process of all future regulations;
  • Reaffirm the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as the standard by which conflicts between the federal government and the religious beliefs or actions of citizens are adjudicated; and other ways the government can assure the government protects instead of infringes upon the religious freedom of our fellow Americans.

The religious freedom guidance issued by the DOJ today addresses all of these areas and goes even farther. Here are the 20 principles laid out in the memo:

  1. The freedom of religion is an important, fundamental right, expressly protected by federal law.
  2. The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or not to act in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.
  3. The freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations.
  4. Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in society or the economy, or interacting with government.
  5. Government may not restrict or compel actions because of the belief they display.
  6. Government may not exclude religious individuals or entities based on their religion.
  7. Government may not target religious individuals or entities through discriminatory enforcement of neutral, generally applicable laws.
  8. Government may not officially favor or disfavor particular religious groups.
  9. Government may not interfere with the autonomy of a religious organization.
  10. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (“RFRA”) prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening any aspect of religious observance or practice, except in rare cases where the government has a compelling reason and there is not a less-restrictive option available.
  11. RFRA’s protection extends not just to individuals, but also to organizations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations.
  12. RFRA does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of a sincerely held religious belief.
  13. A governmental action substantially burdens an exercise of religion under RFRA if it bans an aspect of an adherent’s religious observance or practice, compels an act inconsistent with that observance or practice, or substantially pressures the adherent to modify such observance or practice.
  14. Under RFRA, any government action that would substantially burden religious freedom is held to an exceptionally demanding standard.
  15. RFRA applies even where a religious adherent seeks an exemption from a requirement to confer benefits on third parties.
  16. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their religion.
  17. Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of religious observance or practice as well as belief, unless the employer cannot reasonably accommodate such observance or practice without undue hardship.
  18. The Clinton Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace provide useful examples for private employers of reasonable accommodations for religious observance and practice in the workplace.
  19. Religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.
  20. Generally, the federal government may not condition federal grants or contracts on the religious organization altering its religious character, beliefs, or activities.

We are encouraged by the legal clarity provided through these 20 principles on religious liberty covering issues of great importance to millions of Americans. This legal memo reminds all federal agencies that people of faith do not have to leave their deeply held beliefs at the door when entering their job or public marketplace. This guidance also further enhances our churches’ legal standing if they are treated differently than other organizations by city ordinances when seeking building space and other government services.

Our Founding Fathers didn’t protect religious liberty because they agreed on everything, but because they fundamentally disagreed on so much.

No matter what your religious or political beliefs, all Americans should celebrate these principles. It’s what allows us to advocate and persuade our neighbors in the free marketplace of ideas, while loving our neighbors and serving them.