By / Aug 24

Last week, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans, Louisiana, upheld a Texas law prohibiting certain uses of an abortion method known as dilation and evacuation (D&E), a procedure “commonly used to end second-trimester pregnancies.” The law, officially known as Senate Bill 8 as it was being considered by the Legislature, was initially blocked by a “three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals” just last year but was granted a re-hearing by the full court at the request of the state of Texas. As a result, the law was officially upheld by the court.

The ERLC affirms the court’s decision to uphold Texas law and its prohibition of this inhumane procedure.

What exactly does SB 8 outlaw?

As recorded by Kevin McGill of the Associated Press, SB 8, first passed in 2017, is a law that “seeks to prohibit the use of forceps to remove a fetus from the womb without first using an injected drug or a suction procedure to ensure the fetus is dead.”

Stated differently, the intent of SB 8 is to outlaw what many in the pro-life community refer to as a “dismemberment abortion” from occurring in the second trimester of a mother’s pregnancy. In such dilation and evacuation procedures, children are forcefully removed from their mother’s womb with the use of forceps, resulting in the dismemberment and death of the child. The law, passed in Texas and upheld by the court of appeals on Wednesday, prevents these procedures from taking place.

It bears mentioning that this law is not a sweeping ban on abortion but a prohibition of a specific abortive procedure from occurring at a specific point during a pregnancy. And while more work is yet to be done to strengthen and expand pro-life legislation, this ruling is a common sense step to disallow a grisly method of abortion.

Can an abortion be performed safely?

Of the 14 appellate judges who heard arguments, nine ruled in favor of the Texas law. In the opinion, judges Jennifer Walker Elrod and Don Willett said “the record shows that doctors can safely perform D&E’s and comply with SB8 using methods that are already in widespread use (emphasis added),” an opinion that, despite the majority’s favorable ruling, makes a confounding assertion.

Furthermore, Judge James Dennis, in his dissent, said that SB 8 “makes it a felony to perform the most common and safe abortion procedure employed during the second trimester (emphasis added).” 

These statements beg the question, can an abortion be performed safely? According to these opinions and others, the safety of an abortive procedure depends solely on the resulting health of the mother. While we always want to be concerned about a mother’s health, it is important to recognize that when an abortion is performed precisely the way it is intended, it necessarily results in the death of a person — the preborn baby.

By definition, then, a successful abortion is never safe; it is always fatal.

Reaction outside the court

Outside the court, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights and a critic of the decision, stated that her group “is analyzing the decision and considering all its legal options.” Northup went on to say, “At a time when the health care needs of Texans are greater than ever, the state should be making abortion more accessible, not less.”

On the other hand, Kimberlyn Schwartz, Texas Right to Life director of Media and Communication, praised the decision, saying, “Texans celebrate today’s long-awaited victory” and expressed gratitude at the court’s ruling. 

Obviously, the issue of abortion is a divisive topic within American culture, and the reaction to this ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is further evidence of that. The ERLC, in concert with Texas Right to Life and other pro-life organizations across the country, stands unwaveringly on the side of life.

What’s next?

Though this ruling is favorable to the cause of life, we can be sure that the ongoing work of protecting and preserving the lives of unborn children remains squarely in front of us. Texas’ SB 8 is a common sense measure that, to the extent that this law outlines, ensures the humane treatment of preborn children. The decision could be appealed and go all the way up to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, more robust protections are needed for these most vulnerable  children; protections that seek not only to disallow certain abortive procedures, but that further aid the cause of making abortion unthinkable. 

While we should continue the effort to strengthen and expand current legislation, the cause of life is an issue that will advance only as far as the collective conscience of our culture allows. The ERLC remains resolutely committed to working toward both the strengthening of legislation and the softening of hearts, for the cause of life and the glory of God. 

By / Feb 16

I settled into a chair not far from the podium in the courtroom with my client’s case file in hand. The judge was preparing to enter any minute, and upon his entering, we would hear, “All rise!” I scanned the growing crowd, and it was immediately clear that the number of cases on the morning docket far exceeded the seating capacity in the courtroom. The crowd spilled outside the room, and people were beginning to line up in the hallway. Looking at their faces, I wondered how many were coming to court without an attorney because they did not have the means to hire one. How many had no idea what was going to happen next? Were they anxious? Scared?  

The questions were rhetorical because I had litigated cases in this type of court and volunteered at a local Christian legal aid ministry. The answers, I knew, were clear. A vast majority was unrepresented due to inability to pay for a lawyer. As the judge entered and took his seat, the court clerk began to call the names of the cases. So many people were standing outside that names had to be repeated into the hall. The Lord reminded me in those moments that the need is great. Each of these litigants mattered to God; therefore, they should matter to me.  

Our country is blessed to be governed by the rule of law, and thankfully, we have certain Constitutional rights we enjoy as American citizens. One of those is the right to an attorney to represent you if you have been charged with a crime and cannot afford to hire counsel. These lawyers are called public defenders, and their work is critical to our system of democratic government. However, the scene I described above involved a docket call of civil cases. These men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters had been sued by another party; they had not been charged with a crime. Their cases involved landlord and tenant disputes, breaches of contracts, evictions, and unpaid debts, to name a few. Except in very limited types of cases, no right to an attorney exists in a civil case. The scene described above repeats itself daily in courtrooms across the country, which means many of our neighbors have great needs that are going unmet. 

A Justice Gap Report, prepared by the Legal Services Corporation in 2017, found that in the past year, 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help. In addition, 71% of low-income households experienced at least one civil legal problem in the last year, including problems with health care, housing conditions, disability access, veterans’ benefits, and domestic violence.

We have been given an opportunity to demonstrate the gospel of Christ by helping others receive justice before the law.

The Legal Services Corporation funds legal aid societies and offices across the country, and these providers work hard, and do well, to meet the civil legal needs of those unable to afford an attorney; however, the need far exceeds the assistance available. Acknowledging and responding to this need should certainly not rest solely on the government. Christ-followers have a responsibility to respond in Jesus’ name. We have been given an opportunity to demonstrate the gospel of Christ by helping others receive justice before the law. 

Jesus met needs. He fed the hungry and gave sight to the blind. He opened the ears of the deaf and healed the sick. He freed the afflicted and comforted the hurting. He raised the dead. In Matthew 25:31–40, Jesus explained that his followers would be known by the love of their actions. He so identifies with the vulnerable that he said, And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (v. 40). 

How can you and your church get involved? 

First, recognize the need and pray for wisdom as to how the Lord would have you respond in your specific community. Is there a need for immigration law help? Are housing problems a concern? Are predatory lenders keeping those in your community in poverty? 

Second, you can discuss the need for gospel justice with your pastor and church leadership. Scripture is filled with God’s heart for the poor.  

Third, you can explore becoming a justice center where volunteer attorneys meet needs in Jesus’ name. Resources are available. There is a movement happening across the country where gospel justice centers are working to help in Jesus’ name. The needs are great. Will you help?