By / Jan 10

NASHVILLE (BP) – The Supreme Court will rule on a case involving an Idaho law that bans nearly all abortions in the state.

The high court agreed to hear a challenge to the law, known as the Defense of Life Act, which makes it a felony for doctors to perform most abortions, with an exception for procedures performed when necessary to save the life of the mother.

Last Friday (Jan. 5), the Supreme Court ruled Idaho can enforce the law while the case involving the legislation is being resolved. The court is expected to hear the case in April, and a decision is expected by early summer.

The Friday ruling put on hold a lower court ruling which blocked the Idaho law, based upon a lawsuit filed by the Biden administration.

Brent Leatherwood, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said the lawsuit filed by the Biden administration against the state of Idaho is a wrongful “twist” of federal law seeking to “thwart” the state’s legislation.

Despite what some activists and parts of culture want you to believe, abortion is not health care. In fact, it turns the entire notion of health care on its head. Equally alarming are those who, in the furtherance of abortion, seek to twist federal law to mandate that doctors violate their conscience in the medical care they provide. All of this is preposterous, and the Supreme Court should see through this backdoor attempt by the Biden Administration to thwart Idaho’s ‘Defense of Life’ state law.

Emergency room doctors are more than capable of quickly managing life-threatening situations for mothers like ectopic pregnancies with the utmost care. But they should never be forced to perform elective abortions that terminate the life of a preborn child. The Supreme Court’s decision to review this case is potentially a positive step to both uphold a state’s action to protect life and rebuke the federal government for doing Planned Parenthood’s bidding.

Brent Leatherwood

In a similar case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently determined that ER physicians in Texas were not required to perform emergency abortion care under EMTALA, in a decision announced just days before the high court agreed to rule on Idaho’s law barring abortion.

Leatherwood noted the importance of continuing to fight for the pro-life cause amid these ongoing legal battles.

It is imperative for all of us who care about the lives of preborn children, their mothers and families to make it clear that abortion is wrong, and the ability to end a defenseless life is no freedom at all.

Brent Leatherwood

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Dec 13

On Dec. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in the FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and will hear oral arguments in the case this term. In August, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that important safety precautions surrounding the use of the chemical abortion drug, mifepristone, must be reinstated, drastically restricting the availability of this harmful drug. 

The 5th Circuit’s decision did not immediately go into effect due to an earlier ruling from the Supreme Court which temporarily allows mifepristone to remain on the market with no restrictions while litigation proceeds. Now, the Supreme Court will weigh in on the merits of this case and make a final decision on upholding or discarding these precautions.

If the court upholds the 5th Circuit’s ruling, it will reinstate key safety measures such as:

  • limiting the use of the drug to the first 7 weeks of pregnancy,
  • ending mail-order chemical abortions,
  • and requiring in-person medical visits prior to the drugs being prescribed.

Chemical abortions account for a majority of all abortions in the U.S., particularly in states where abortion has been restricted or banned following the Dobbs decision. 

What is this case about?

In November 2022, Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit against the FDA on behalf of four pro-life medical groups. The suit claims that the FDA “failed America’s women and girls when it chose politics over science and approved chemical abortion drugs for use in the United States. And it has continued to fail them by repeatedly removing even the most basic precautionary requirements associated with their use.”

These pro-life groups argue that the FDA was wrong to grant the drug mifepristone fast-tracked approval back in 2000. The complaint continues:

The only way the FDA could have approved chemical abortion drugs was to use its accelerated drug approval authority, necessitating the FDA to call pregnancy an “illness” and argue that these dangerous drugs provide a “meaningful therapeutic benefit” over existing treatments.

But pregnancy is not an illness, nor do chemical abortion drugs provide a therapeutic benefit over surgical abortion. In asserting these transparently false conclusions, the FDA exceeded its regulatory authority to approve the drugs.

Currently, 1 in 5 women who take the drug will experience complications that require further medical attention. The case argues that the disposal of original safety precautions that accompanied the drug’s initial approval have led to increased danger to the women and girls who take mifepristone.

In 2016, the FDA:

  • expanded the availability of chemical abortion drugs from 7 weeks of pregnancy up to 10 weeks of pregnancy,
  • changed the dosing regimen,
  • reduced the number of in-person doctor visits from three to one,
  • expanded who could prescribe and administer chemical abortion drugs beyond medical doctors,
  • and eliminated the requirement for prescribers to report non-fatal complications from chemical abortion drugs.  

Then, in 2021, the FDA removed the requirement of in-person dispensing, allowing for abortion drugs to be accessed through the mail and telemedicine without a woman ever seeing a doctor in-person.

At this point in litigation, the court is no longer considering the initial approval of mifepristone but has narrowed its consideration to the removal and potential reinstatement of these vital safety precautions.

What happens next?

This case will now be scheduled for oral argument, likely in early 2024, with a decision expected in June. The court’s previous 7-2 ruling in April was narrowly focused on the availability of mifepristone as litigation proceeded and did not look at the broader merits of the case. It should not necessarily be viewed as a predictor of how the court will rule.

Southern Baptists care about the sanctity of life and dignity of all people, including the preborn. We also care about the health, safety, and welfare of women who have experienced harmful and serious medical complications from these drugs at the hands of the predatory abortion industry. The ERLC is currently evaluating opportunities to file an amicus brief, making these arguments before the court.

If the court upholds this decision from the 5th Circuit, more preborn lives will be saved and more women will be protected from the dangers intrinsic to chemical abortions. We will continue to work toward a day when chemical abortions are no more, and we pray that the Supreme Court will take this step forward as we work to build a true culture of life and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of women and girls.

By / Aug 16

On Aug.16, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that important safety precautions surrounding the use of the chemical abortion drug, mifepristone, must be reinstated, drastically restricting the availability of this harmful drug. The court’s decision will not immediately go into effect due to an earlier ruling from the Supreme Court which temporarily allows mifepristone to remain on the market with no restrictions while litigation proceeds. It is likely that the Biden administration will appeal this ruling and the Supreme Court will weigh in on the merits of this case.

If upheld, this ruling will reinstate key safety measures such as:

  • limiting the use of the drug to the first 7 weeks of pregnancy,
  • ending mail-order chemical abortions,
  • and requiring in-person medical visits prior to the drugs being prescribed.

Chemical abortions account for a majority of all abortions in the U.S., particularly in states where abortion has been restricted or banned following the Dobbs decision. 

What is this chemical abortion drug case about?

In November 2022, Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit against the FDA on behalf of four pro-life medical groups. The suit claims that the FDA “failed America’s women and girls when it chose politics over science and approved chemical abortion drugs for use in the United States. And it has continued to fail them by repeatedly removing even the most basic precautionary requirements associated with their use.”

These pro-life groups argue that the FDA was wrong to grant the chemical abortion drug mifepristone fast-tracked approval back in 2000. The complaint continues:

The only way the FDA could have approved chemical abortion drugs was to use its accelerated drug approval authority, necessitating the FDA to call pregnancy an “illness” and argue that these dangerous drugs provide a “meaningful therapeutic benefit” over existing treatments.

But pregnancy is not an illness, nor do chemical abortion drugs provide a therapeutic benefit over surgical abortion. In asserting these transparently false conclusions, the FDA exceeded its regulatory authority to approve the drugs.

Currently, 1 in 5 women who take the drug will experience complications that require further medical attention. The case argues that the disposal of original safety precautions that accompanied the drug’s initial approval have led to increased danger to the women and girls who take mifepristone.

In 2016, the FDA:

  • expanded the availability of chemical abortion drugs from 7 weeks of pregnancy up to 10 weeks of pregnancy,
  • changed the dosing regimen,
  • reduced the number of in-person doctor visits from three to one,
  • expanded who could prescribe and administer chemical abortion drugs beyond medical doctors,
  • and eliminated the requirement for prescribers to report non-fatal complications from chemical abortion drugs.  

Then, in 2021, the FDA removed the requirement of in-person dispensing, allowing for abortion drugs to be accessed through the mail and telemedicine without a woman ever seeing a doctor in-person.

Why now?

Though it is unusual that this case is only now being argued over a drug approved 23 years ago, it comes after more than two decades of continued work by the petitioners against the approval of mifepristone.

  • In 2002, the petitioners submitted a citizen petition to challenge the FDA’s approval.
  • It was not until 2016 that the FDA denied the petition.
  • In 2019, the petitioners filed a new citizen petition to challenge the FDA’s 2016 changes.
  • In 2021, on the same day the FDA changed the in-person dispensing requirement, it denied the citizen petition.
  • Following the denial, the petitioners were finally able to file suit against the FDA in November 2022.

What happens next?

This case now likely heads on appeal to the full 5th Circuit and then almost certainly back to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court’s previous 7-2 ruling in April was narrowly focused on the availability of mifepristone as litigation proceeded and did not look at the broader merits of the case. At this time, it is unclear how quickly the court could hear and decide this case.

In anticipation of that ruling, some abortion advocates have already begun to stockpile the drug in anticipation of its potential removal from the market. Others have suggested that the medication abortion protocol could be changed to just include misoprostol, the other drug in the current two-step protocol, even though this practice is known to cause increased cramping, bleeding, and potential complications for women.

Southern Baptists care about the sanctity of life and dignity of all people, including the preborn. We also care about the health, safety, and welfare of women who have experienced harmful and serious medical complications from these drugs at the hands of the predatory abortion industry. 

If upheld, this decision from the 5th Circuit will save more preborn lives and protect women from the dangers intrinsic to chemical abortions. While we will continue to work toward a day when chemical abortions are no more, today’s ruling is a step forward in our work to build a true culture of life and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of women and girls.

By / Jun 21

A year ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and drastically altered access to abortion in our nation. Millions of pro-life activists had worked and prayed for this moment. Yet, the nature of the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization didn’t outlaw abortion; it sent the decision-making back to the states, setting off a chain of events, some positive and life-saving, some predatory and destructive.

In my life, I have had the opportunity to live in a few different cities, in different states, each with their own culture. I was able to build relationships with pregnancy care providers in these places, visit their clinics, and support their sacrificial, God-honoring work. Every person I know that has worked in a pregnancy care center is a devoted Christian, a deep well of empathy, and a dynamic problem solver who has walked with many people through unimaginable circumstances.

As we recognize the anniversary of the monumental Dobbs case, we talked to two heroes who have provided a view of pro-life ministry in Tennessee and Illinois. It’s staggering to consider how different their experience has become. 

  • Andrew Wood is the executive director of Hope Resource Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. He hosts a weekly podcast, “A Conversation on Life,” and often speaks and writes on the issue of life around the country. The Hope Resource Center is a cost-free healthcare center for women offering medical care by licensed professionals for reproductive health concerns, education, and connection with community resources. 
  • Kathy Lesnoff worked as a medical assistant in an abortion clinic and is now the president/CEO of Mosaic Health. She currently oversees a staff of 12 with offices in Granite City and Fairview Heights, Illinois, just outside the city of St. Louis, Missouri. They also oversee a mobile medical unit parked next door to Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights.

This article will provide a portrait of today’s varied abortion landscape, as well as inspire churches and individuals in every community to consider how they might join in supporting mothers and families in new ways. 

Jill Waggoner: How did the Dobbs decision affect access to abortion in your area? 

Andrew Wood: My home state of Tennessee passed the “Human Life Protection Act” in 2019 and a “Heartbeat Bill” in 2020. The Dobbs decision on June 24, 2022, allowed for these bills to immediately make a difference across Tennessee. The reality on the ground here in Knoxville and across the state, however, was felt as the abortion providers quickly closed their doors or altered drastically the services they provided after the Dobbs decision. 

Kathy Lesnoff: Illinois has long been considered a “sanctuary state” for abortion. However, the Dobbs decision took this idea to a whole new level. As many states across the nation proceeded to pass laws that made abortion illegal or severely limited, Illinois opened three more abortion facilities along border cities. Additionally, Planned Parenthood launched a mobile medical unit for the sole purpose of providing abortions along state lines, thereby providing even more access to abortion in Illinois.

JW: How have abortion pills by mail or abortion tourism affected the families you serve? 

AW: We are well aware that women in Tennessee are seeking abortion pills via the mail and are even traveling across state lines into bordering states to access abortion providers that are unavailable in Tennessee. This awareness has prompted partnerships and cooperation with other pregnancy centers in bordering states so that we can assist and provide care for men and women that may be making that drive in one direction or another. We believe that these partnerships will only foster better environments to serve our patients. 

KL: Over 54% of abortions are now medical. Women are opting for the pill as they feel it is an easier option with less guilt attached. To meet this increased demand, more pregnancy centers, including Mosaic Health, are offering abortion pill reversal.

Mosaic has seen multiple patients from other states whose travel has been covered by their employer. We have witnessed an increase in abortion tourism as license plates from over 30 states were seen at a local abortion facility just last year alone.

JW: How has the abortion culture of your state changed since Dobbs

AW: Laws can certainly make a difference, but you don’t change the culture overnight with a piece of legislation. Abortion was the law of the land for five decades in this country and, although a giant shift was made via Dobbs, there is still much work to do in cultivating a ethic with a high value of life. 

In Tennessee, we have been successful in legislating a decline in abortion, and the state should be applauded for that, but we haven’t stopped there. We have also started the process of eliminating obstacles to parenting, fostering environments to allow for families to flourish, and are looking at ways to see public and private partnerships work together to better serve families in need. These partnerships and this work is designed to prevent unplanned pregnancies from ever becoming crisis pregnancies. 

KL: Mosaic Health’s Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) is parked by Planned Parenthood six days a week. Since the Dobbs reversal, we have seen a 72% increase in women seeking an abortion on the MMU. The Dobbs decision incited even more anger from the pro-choice left, and they have been motivated to stop pro-life efforts at all costs. Senate Bill 1909 is evidence of their determination to stop pregnancy centers from providing free, confidential services across the state of Illinois.

JW: How have your client numbers been in the last year? 

AW: We have certainly seen an increase of patients since June 24, 2022. This increase was not unexpected as we knew the abortion landscape would shift if and when Roe was overturned. Year after year we saw a 17% increase in pregnancy test appointments, and we provided more ultrasounds in 2022 than we had the previous six years. Unplanned pregnancy doesn’t take a holiday because of court decisions, new legislation, or pandemics. We have served for 26 years in Knoxville and have witnessed this firsthand year in and year out. 

KL: Since the Dobbs case leak, we have seen a 64% increase across all three of our locations in women considering abortion compared to the previous year.

JW: What are you hearing from the women that come to your center? What is new, and what is the same? 

AW: Our patients are looking for assistance. Some of them are not even aware a court decision was made or a law passed in Tennessee. Others are very aware of the options in front of them, the timelines they must adhere to if they are seeking to travel out of state, and what each state offers in terms of abortion services. 

We are also seeing some women feel a sense of freedom now that abortion is not an option in Tennessee. In the past, they have felt a burden or as if abortion was being thrust upon them due to their circumstances. They feel very different now that abortion has been removed, at least in Tennessee, from their decision-making process. 

Unfortunately, we are also hearing from patients that are getting little to no follow-up care after traveling out of state for an abortion. This lack of care is frustrating as women are forced to walk through these difficult days and decisions alone and with no oversight from the very ones that provided them with the abortion in the first place. 

KL: What is new is the urgency with which many want to have an abortion and as mentioned previously, the interest in the abortion pill. Many more women know there are gestational time limitations for the abortion pill. Also new is the amount of gender-confused patients we are serving.

What remains the same is that women are convinced abortion is the best option for their future. They are emboldened to choose abortion and empowered by the self-centeredness of the current culture.

JW: What do you see as the greatest need from churches and other pro-life partners in the coming days? 

AW: I have often answered this question with material needs. This need will never go away. However, I think our greatest need today is discipleship. We need a smooth onramp for our patients to get connected to the local church. We need our patients to be discipled by godly women. We need our patients’ significant others to be discipled by godly men. 

We hold to a high value of life in our pregnancy centers because God created life. In the same way, we hold a high value of marriage and parenthood. Our culture is good at detaching these good and godly things from each other. We shouldn’t be surprised when the next generation lives out this detached life as they are attending more baby showers than wedding showers. The answers our patients are seeking aren’t going to be found in the culture of detachment. Instead, the answer is found in Scripture, which is taught, discussed, and lived out in the local church. 

It is my prayer that pregnancy centers across this country would have church partners lined up seeking to assist, certainly, in material needs, but more importantly in the discipleship of men, women, and babies who are making their way to thousands of pregnancy centers every single day. 

Imagine that in 10 years this onramp from the pregnancy center to the local church is flourishing with families that value God, life, marriage, and parenthood. I believe this partnership is the key to the trajectory shift we so desperately need in today’s society. We must not divorce the life issue from the Great Commandment (Love God and love your neighbor) and the Great Commission (go and make disciples.) Once we understand this, we will be well positioned to serve, love, and disciple those in need. 

KL: The greatest need from churches is a boldness to proclaim the truth regarding the life issue from the pulpit. We are seeing an increased number of women claiming to be Christians choosing abortion. We need godly leadership and voices who are unafraid to share the value of life from conception to natural death with their congregations.

We also need prayer

  • prayer that the hearts and minds of those coming through our doors will change, 
  • prayer for our staff and volunteers who are engaging in a battle of life and death every day, 
  • and prayer for the culture of death in our state to transform into a culture of life. 

We believe that God hears and answers prayer.

And we need financial partnership. It would be impossible to operate a single ultrasound machine, pay nursing staff, and offer free pregnancy tests without the financial support of generous churches and individuals throughout our community. For Mosaic Health, the past 37 years has been a testament to how unified, life-affirming advocates can transform people and save lives for generations of families to come.

By / Jun 9

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) exists to assist churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty in cooperation with churches and other Southern Baptist entities. As part of that role, we are committed to representing Southern Baptists on issues that hold immense importance for our churches and the gospel. 

One of the ways we fulfill this mission is by actively engaging in the judicial process, particularly at the United States Supreme Court. In this article, we want to update you on the current cases before the Supreme Court, why they matter for Southern Baptists, and how the ERLC is involved.

(For more in-depth analysis, please visit our website at ERLC.com/SCOTUS.)

The Religious Postal Work Case | Groff v. Dejoy

One of the cases we are closely monitoring is Groff v. Dejoy, which revolves around Gerald Groff, a USPS carrier and devout Christian who was denied religious accommodations to observe the Sunday Sabbath. This case has the potential to challenge or limit the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, which restricted employers’ obligations to accommodate religious beliefs.

To support Groff and advocate for enhanced religious liberty protections in the workplace, the ERLC has come alongside other religious organizations in filing an amicus brief.

The 303 Creative Free Speech Case | 303 Creative v. Elenis

Another critical case we are following is 303 Creative v. Elenis. It involves Lorie Smith, a creative professional who refused to create a wedding website for a same-sex couple due to her religious convictions. This case raises significant questions about the boundaries of free speech and when the government can compel individuals to express themselves, even if it contradicts their beliefs.

We are actively urging the court to rule in favor of Smith, as it has implications for free speech and the ability of people of faith to live out their convictions in the public square.

The Abortion Pill Case | Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA (5th Circuit Decision)

Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA is a case brought by pro-life medical groups challenging the FDA’s approval of the chemical abortion drug, mifepristone, and the removal of safety precautions surrounding its usage.

The ERLC has been closely monitoring this case and has advocated for the protection of preborn lives and the well-being of women affected by this harmful drug. We will continue to urge the court to prioritize these critical concerns and will actively seek further engagement if the case is appealed to the Supreme Court.

Stay informed

The ERLC is deeply committed to equipping Southern Baptists with the necessary knowledge to understand court rulings and navigate these vital issues effectively. Recognizing the significance of staying informed and engaging thoughtfully in the public square, we have established a dedicated landing page, ERLC.com/SCOTUS, to equip our churches and fellow Baptists. This platform serves as a comprehensive resource for all the cases we are monitoring, focusing on religious liberty, free speech, and the sanctity of life. Our goal is to empower Southern Baptists to comprehend and respond to these crucial matters.

In our role representing Southern Baptist churches and advocating for our deeply held convictions, the ERLC plays a vital role in addressing key legal cases before the Supreme Court. Through our engagement in cases like Groff v. Dejoy, 303 Creative v. Elenis, and Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, we seek to protect religious accommodations, defend free speech, and uphold the sanctity of life.

As Southern Baptists stand alongside us, we have the opportunity to bring light to a chaotic public square with the transformative message of Jesus Christ. Together, we can make a significant impact on crucial societal issues and ensure that our voices are heard and respected.

By / Apr 21

On this episode, Lindsay Nicolet talks with Hannah Daniel about the Tennessee governor’s Order of Protection proposal. They also discuss several important Supreme Court developments including the religious postal worker case and the abortion pill 

Content

Tennessean: SBC public policy president, a Covenant parent, backs Lee’s gun law proposal

Groff v. DeJoy: Religious postal worker case

  • Rundown of oral arguments

Abortion pill at the Supreme Court 

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • Racial unity | If we, as Southern Baptists, can be willing to listen and have good conversations about race, we will see fruit that will draw us closer together. That’s why we believe that A Conversation with Pastor Jon Nelson will be a helpful resource for you and your congregation. Watch this NEW video at ERLC.com/racialunity and listen as Jon candidly shares his thoughts on how we can meaningfully partner together on this work within our churches and communities. Again that link is ERLC.com/racialunity
  • Email updates | Now that 2023 is fully underway, we want to make sure you are kept up to date about the important work we are doing on behalf of Southern Baptists. Whether it’s our 2023 Public Policy Agenda or another ultrasound machine placement, we want to make sure you know how we are serving our churches and acting as missionaries to the public square. As we move forward in 2023, know that first in our hearts and at the top of our minds are our churches. And we are taking those next steps with a Mark 10:44 mindset: to be a servant of all. The best way to learn more is by joining us at ERLC.com/updates. Signing up for email updates allows you to hear directly from us about our work and ways we are serving you on the issues that matter most to Southern Baptists. You’ll learn about our work on your behalf in our nation’s capital, about exciting new partnerships with our state conventions and the ways we are working across the convention with our sister entities. Become an email subscriber at ERLC.com/updates
By / Apr 14

On this episode, Lindsay Nicolet talks with Hannah Daniel about the importance of the Supreme Court in today’s society. They also discuss what’s new with the rapidly moving abortion pill case. 

Content

The abortion pill case

Explainer: How a case makes it the Supreme Court

Explainer: What you should know about Supreme Court decisions

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • Racial unity | If we, as Southern Baptists, can be willing to listen and have good conversations about race, we will see fruit that will draw us closer together. That’s why we believe that A Conversation with Pastor Jon Nelson will be a helpful resource for you and your congregation. Watch this NEW video at ERLC.com/racialunity and listen as Jon candidly shares his thoughts on how we can meaningfully partner together on this work within our churches and communities. Again that link is ERLC.com/racialunity
  • Email updates | Now that 2023 is fully underway, we want to make sure you are kept up to date about the important work we are doing on behalf of Southern Baptists. Whether it’s our 2023 Public Policy Agenda or another ultrasound machine placement, we want to make sure you know how we are serving our churches and acting as missionaries to the public square. As we move forward in 2023, know that first in our hearts and at the top of our minds are our churches. And we are taking those next steps with a Mark 10:44 mindset: to be a servant of all. The best way to learn more is by joining us at ERLC.com/updates. Signing up for email updates allows you to hear directly from us about our work and ways we are serving you on the issues that matter most to Southern Baptists. You’ll learn about our work on your behalf in our nation’s capital, about exciting new partnerships with our state conventions and the ways we are working across the convention with our sister entities. Become an email subscriber at ERLC.com/updates
By / Apr 14

A 150-year old law that many Americans have never heard of before is at the heart of the recent ruling on the abortion pill. The Comstock Act of 1873 was passed to safeguard public morality by suppressing the distribution and sale of obscene materials—including information on abortion—through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

As part of his recent ruling, a federal judge in Texas determined that the Comstock Act prohibits the mailing of chemical abortion drugs. Originally enacted as part of the Comstock Act of 1873, section 1461 currently declares “[e]very article or thing designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion,” as well as “[e]very article, instrument, substance, drug, medicine, or thing which is advertised or described in a manner calculated to lead another to use or apply it for producing abortion,” to be “nonmailable matter” that the USPS may not lawfully deliver.

Here’s what you should know about the history and significance of the Comstock Act, and the impact it had on American society and the pro-life cause.

Who was Comstock?

During the mid-19th century, American society was experiencing rapid industrialization, urbanization, and social change. This period saw the rise of new forms of communication that facilitated the spread of ideas and information. The increase of printed materials was of particular concern among religious and social conservatives who worried about the potential for the rapid spread of immoral and corrupting content.

Anthony Comstock, a devout Christian and crusader against vice, was at the forefront of this movement. He believed that obscenity, particularly in the form of erotic literature and contraceptives, posed a threat to the moral fabric of American society. He also viewed abortion as a grave moral evil and sought to restrict its promotion through the dissemination of information. To address these concerns, Comstock lobbied for legislation that would enable the government to suppress the distribution of such materials. 

The Comstock Act, officially titled “An Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use,” was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 3, 1873. The act made it illegal to use the USPS to send or receive any “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” materials, including contraceptive devices and information on abortion. Violators faced severe penalties, including fines and imprisonment.

The Comstock Act expanded the powers of the USPS, granting postal inspectors the authority to search and seize materials they deemed obscene. As the act was broadly worded, it gave inspectors wide discretion in determining what constituted obscenity. The act also allowed for the destruction of any materials confiscated, further limiting the circulation of potentially objectionable content.

Comstock, who was appointed as a special agent of the USPS, used his new authority to lead an aggressive campaign against the dissemination of obscene materials and the promotion of abortion. He claimed to have confiscated and destroyed hundreds of thousands of such items, and his zealous efforts earned him both admiration and criticism.

Challenges, impact, and controversy

The Comstock Act faced challenges from advocates of free speech, who argued that the government’s definition of obscenity was vague and subjective, leading to the suppression of constitutionally protected expression. Critics also pointed out that the act’s provisions on contraception and abortion had little to do with obscenity and instead served to impose a particular moral viewpoint on the public.

From a pro-life perspective, the Comstock Act’s restrictions on abortion information can be seen as an important measure to protect the sanctity of life. By prohibiting the distribution of information on abortion, the Comstock Act effectively limited the accessibility and promotion of a procedure that was harmful to both women and unborn children.

Changes in society’s views of morality, however, brought the act’s provisions on contraception and abortion came under increasing scrutiny. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a series of landmark decisions, began to chip away at the act’s restrictions.

In 1965, the court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that a state law banning the use of contraceptives by married couples was unconstitutional, as it violated the right to privacy. This decision marked a turning point in the legal expansion of rights related to individual privacy.

In 1971, the court further undermined the Comstock Act in United States v. Vuitch, which dealt with the issue of abortion. The court held that a District of Columbia law criminalizing abortion except when the mother’s life or health was endangered was unconstitutionally vague. This ruling paved the way for the Court’s landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion.

These decisions significantly undermined the moral values the Comstock Act was passed to uphold. In particular, the erosion of the act’s restrictions on abortion information and access is believed to have helped lead to a devaluation of the sanctity of life and an increase in the number of abortions performed in the United States.

A mostly forgotten, but enduring legacy

From 1873 until today, the Comstock Act has had a lasting influence on American society, shaping the discourse on morality, censorship, and the sanctity of life for 150 years. The act represented an early and aggressive attempt by the government to regulate the content of printed materials and control access to information on obtaining and conducting an abortion.

The role of government: The act’s legacy can be seen in the continuing debate over the proper role of government in regulating obscenity. Although the Comstock Act’s provisions regarding obscenity have been largely dismantled, the tension between the desire to protect public morality and the need to safeguard individual freedoms remains a central issue in the modern era.

Shaping attitudes: An often unnoticed influence of the act is the role it played in shaping attitudes towards the sanctity of life and the value of children. The restrictions on abortion imposed by the Act contributed to a culture that viewed children as intrinsically valuable and sought to protect preborn children. The struggle to dismantle these restrictions laid the groundwork for the modern pro-life movement, which continues to fight for the protection of preborn children and the promotion of alternatives to abortion.

Although largely forgotten today, the Comstock Act of 1873 was a pivotal piece of legislation that had a profound influence on American society and the pro-life cause. While many of its provisions have been removed or undermined, the act’s legacy remains—as the recent abortion pill ruling shows—relevant to the ongoing debates over abortion in America.

By / Apr 12

Note: This case is quickly evolving, and this article will be updated as new developments emerge.

On April 21, the Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, paused a lower court ruling from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that had restricted the availability of the chemical abortion drug, mifepristone, while litigation around its approval is ongoing. Justices Alito and Thomas dissented from the Court’s action. This means that mifepristone remains available without vital safety precautions in place while the case continues. The case now returns to the Fifth Circuit for oral arguments on the merits of the case.

Previously, a three-judge panel at the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on April 12 that mifepristone, part of the two-drug regimen given for chemical abortions, would remain available while litigation regarding its initial approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues, but also ordered the FDA to reinstate safety precautions such as:

  • limiting the use of the drug to the first 7 weeks of pregnancy,
  • cease sending abortion drugs through the mail,
  • and require in-person medical visits prior to the drugs being prescribed.

That ruling followed an April 7 ruling from a federal judge in Texas which ordered that the FDA’s 2000 approval of the abortion pill, mifepristone, should be halted nationwide. Within an hour, another federal judge in Washington ruled in a separate case that the FDA must continue providing the drug in several states. 

Chemical abortions account for a majority of all abortions in the U.S., particularly in states where abortion has been restricted or banned following the Dobbs decision.

What is this case about?

In November 2022, Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit against the FDA on behalf of four pro-life medical groups. The suit claims that the FDA “failed America’s women and girls when it chose politics over science and approved chemical abortion drugs for use in the United States. And it has continued to fail them by repeatedly removing even the most basic precautionary requirements associated with their use.”

These pro-life groups argue that the FDA was wrong to grant the drug mifepristone fast-tracked approval back in 2000. The complaint continues:

The only way the FDA could have approved chemical abortion drugs was to use its accelerated drug approval authority, necessitating the FDA to call pregnancy an “illness” and argue that these dangerous drugs provide a “meaningful therapeutic benefit” over existing treatments.

But pregnancy is not an illness, nor do chemical abortion drugs provide a therapeutic benefit over surgical abortion. In asserting these transparently false conclusions, the FDA exceeded its regulatory authority to approve the drugs.

Currently, 1 in 5 women who take the drug will experience complications that require further medical attention. The case argues that the disposal of original safety precautions that accompanied the drug’s initial approval have led to increased danger to the women and girls who take mifepristone.

In 2016, the FDA:

  • expanded the availability of chemical abortion drugs from 7 weeks of pregnancy up to 10 weeks of pregnancy,
  • changed the dosing regimen,
  • reduced the number of in-person doctor visits from three to one,
  • expanded who could prescribe and administer chemical abortion drugs beyond medical doctors,
  • and eliminated the requirement for prescribers to report non-fatal complications from chemical abortion drugs.  

Then, in 2021, the FDA removed the requirement of in-person dispensing, allowing for abortion drugs to be accessed through the mail and telemedicine without a woman ever seeing a doctor in-person.

Why now?

Though it is unusual that this case is only now being argued over a drug approved 23 years ago, it comes after more than two decades of continued work by the petitioners against the approval of mifepristone.

  • In 2002, the petitioners submitted a citizen petition to challenge the FDA’s approval.
  • It was not until 2016 that the FDA denied the petition.
  • In 2019, the petitioners filed a new citizen petition to challenge the FDA’s 2016 changes.
  • In 2021, on the same day the FDA changed the in-person dispensing requirement, it denied the citizen petition.
  • Following the denial, the petitioners were finally able to file suit against the FDA in November 2022.

What happens next?

This case now heads back to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal where oral arguments on the merits of the case will be heard on May 17. Some abortion advocates have already begun to stockpile the drug in anticipation of its removal from the market. Others have suggested that the medication abortion protocol could be changed to just include misoprostol, the other drug in the current two-step protocol, even though this practice is known to cause increased cramping, bleeding, and potential complications for women.

Southern Baptists care about the sanctity of life and dignity of all people, including the preborn. We also care about the health, safety, and welfare of women who have experienced harmful and serious medical complications from these drugs at the hands of the predatory abortion industry. Though the Supreme Court’s ruling is a disappointing setback, the fight against medication abortion—and the harms that it brings to women and the preborn—is far from over. We will continue to urge the courts and the FDA to take action that protects women and the preborn.

By / Jan 27

A nurse practitioner in Texas has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that CVS Pharmacy violated her religious liberty.

What’s the background?

Since 2015, Robyn Strader has served as a nurse practitioner at a CVS MinuteClinic in Keller, Texas. Because of her religious beliefs (the lawsuit identifies her as a Christian and “longtime member of a Baptist church”), she cannot participate in any way in facilitating use of contraceptive or abortifacient drugs that could prevent the implantation of an embryo, otherwise cause an abortion, or contribute to infertility.

For 6 1/2 years, CVS provided her a religious accommodation that allowed her to not prescribe hormonal contraception. On the few occasions someone requested such a prescription from her, she would simply refer them to another nurse practitioner at her location or to another CVS MinuteClinic located two miles away.

What’s the problem?

However, in August 2021, CVS announced it would no longer honor any religious accommodations related to “pregnancy prevention services.”

CVS’s new policy is to deny all such religious accommodations without considering the particular circumstances of the employee requesting the accommodation, including to determine whether that employee could be accommodated without undue hardship.

The lawsuit says that a manager asked Strader whether she would be changing her position. When she refused, she was issued a written notice saying that her employment had been terminated. 

“After accommodating Robyn for six and a half years without a single complaint, CVS fired her because it simply did not like her pro-life religious beliefs,” said Christine Pratt, a lawyer for First Liberty Institute, the nonprofit firm that is representing Strader. “It is illegal to issue a blanket revocation of all religious accommodations when it is so easy for CVS to accommodate its employees. CVS is sending a message that religious health care workers are not welcome and need not apply.”

The lawsuit filed in federal court states that, “In addition to prospectively preempting all requests for religious accommodations, CVS unlawfully derided Ms. Strader’s religious beliefs, pressured her to change her beliefs, refused to consider her multiple requests for a religious accommodation, failed to engage with her about possible accommodations, and terminated her because of her religious beliefs.”

The lawsuit comes after a recent rule change by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that permits retail pharmacies to sell the abortion drug mifepristone. Two of the country’s largest pharmacy chains, CVS and Walgreens, announced they would be providing that abortifacient in states where they can do so legally.

How has the ERLC responded?

The ERLC responded quickly to the FDA’s ruling. Brent Leatherwood, president of the ERLC, sent a letter to the chief executive officers of CVS and Walgreens asking them to reverse their decision to carry and dispense mifepristone. He also asked the CEOs “to respect, and reasonably accommodate, the consciences of your pharmacists – Baptists and other people of faith – who are opposed to filling a prescription” for an abortion because of their belief in the “value and dignity of the preborn and their mothers.”

Leatherwood added that a clear policy that “respects deeply held beliefs about the preciousness of life and honors individual consciences that believe abortion is a moral evil” would be welcomed “in a corporate world often solely driven by maximizing profits, with little regard for the personal views of employees.” 

Leatherwood also told the pharmacy executives that the ERLC is prepared to provide advice regarding conscience-protection policies. 

Why does it matter?

Strader’s case is a prime example of how religious accommodations can be made without placing an undue burden on anyone involved.

Of note, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case this term, Groff v. Dejoy, re-examining the standard for employers providing religious accommodations for employees. That case will consider whether an employer may demonstrate “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business” under Title VII merely by showing that the requested accommodation burdens the employee’s coworkers rather than the business itself.

The Groff case could have implications for the type of situation Strader faces.