By / May 24

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to deliver rulings on three cases important to Southern Baptists by the end of June. Each case centers around the protection of vulnerable lives, including the lives of preborn children and of vulnerable women and children suffering from domestic violence.

Here is a brief explanation that highlights what you should know about these pending cases: 

U.S. Food and Drug Administration v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine (AHM)

This case challenges the United States Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval and regulation of mifepristone, a drug used in combination with misoprostol for chemical abortions.

The plaintiffs, a group of pro-life medical organizations called the “Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine,” argue that the FDA improperly approved mifepristone and made changes to the advised use of this drug. Such changes include:

  • expanded mail-order access to the drug,
  • allowing for its prescription three weeks further along in a woman’s pregnancy,
  • and removing other safety precautions to protect women against medical emergencies such as unchecked internal bleeding as a result of an ectopic pregnancy or other complication with a chemical abortion.

The Alliance also claims the FDA failed to adequately consider the risks of the drug and that it violates the Comstock Act, an 1873 law prohibiting the mailing of “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” materials. Additionally, the plaintiffs argue that the combination of these decisions result in the potential violation of conscience protections for pro-life medical workers.

The Biden administration argued:

  • that mifepristone is safe and effective,
  • that the FDA acted within its authority to approve and regulate the drug,
  • and that the Comstock Act does not apply.

Furthermore, the administration also contends the plaintiffs lack legal standing to bring the case.

A ruling in favor of the Alliance could require the FDA to return to the previously established safety requirements and limitations on the drug mifepristone. Such a ruling would both protect vulnerable preborn lives by making it more difficult to obtain a chemical abortion and ensure women receive the information and care needed to prevent further harm.

The Southern Baptist perspective on this issue revolves around two main concerns. First, Southern Baptists believe that all life, from conception to natural death, is inherently worthy of dignity and protection, regardless of age or ability. We hold that every child has the right to be born, and the act of terminating preborn lives directly contradicts these beliefs while also harming the mothers.

Secondly, Southern Baptists have a strong history of advocating for religious liberty in the workplace. Despite existing conscience protections, we have repeatedly witnessed attempts by the Biden administration to undermine these protections, either directly or indirectly.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on March 26, 2024, and is expected to issue a ruling by the end of its term this June. You can find further details on the oral arguments here.

State of Idaho v. United States of America

This case involves a dispute on the relationship between the State of Idaho’s pro-life Defense of Life Act and the federal government’s law, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA).

In 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which ensured that hospitals could not deny emergency care to individuals due to an inability to pay, requiring them to treat and/or stabilize all patients.

  • Originally, EMTALA was designed to ensure hospitals that receive Medicare funding provide emergency care to stabilize patients for transfer to another hospital, regardless of ability to pay.
  • The law specifically provides that both the mother and the “unborn child” are viewed as patients who must be stabilized and cared for. In extreme cases where the mother’s life is at risk, an abortion may be provided under EMTALA where there is no other option.

The Biden administration is attempting to overturn Idaho’s pro-life law by arguing it violates EMTALA. However, both laws seek to protect and safeguard life; the Biden administration is attempting to pit these two laws against one another.

In further detail, Idaho claimed during oral arguments that the 10th Amendment reserves this issue to the states and that the federal government has no constitutional authority to regulate abortion. They contend the Biden administration is improperly using federal law, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), to force Idaho hospitals to perform abortions against state law.

The Biden administration countered that Idaho’s law violates the Constitution and federal statutes that imply access to abortion care. They argue the Supremacy Clause gives federal law precedence and that the government has a duty to ensure access to lawful medical procedures. The administration claims that Idaho’s ban creates a public health crisis by preventing doctors from providing necessary, life-saving care.

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case related to Idaho’s Defense of Life Act has significant implications for the pro-life movement and the future of state pro-life legislation. The outcome of this case could either uphold state-level abortion restrictions or allow the federal government to indirectly support abortion access.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on this case on April 26, 2024, and is expected to issue a ruling by the end of its term in June.  

United States v. Rahimi

This case centers around whether or not existing federal law prohibiting individuals perpetuating domestic violence from possessing firearms remains constitutional under a new 2022 test that was developed by Justice Clarence Thomas.

The defendant, Zackey Rahimi, was subject to a civil protective order in Texas after an alleged assault on his ex-girlfriend. The order prohibited him from possessing firearms under a federal law that has been in place since 1996. However, Texas police later found Rahimi in possession of several guns following his involvement in five separate shootings, leading to an indictment under federal law.

Rahimi argued that this existing federal law violates the Second Amendment, claiming the Supreme Court’s recent Bruen decision overturned precedent that previously allowed the law to remain in place. The new test developed in Bruen requires the court to review historical tradition and context of the Second Amendment before determining whether or not a law violates the amendment.

The federal government argued that the Second Amendment does not protect the right of individuals convicted of domestic abuse to possess guns due to safety concerns for the women and children that may be harmed as a result. The federal government cites Heller (2008), where Justice Scalia maintains the application of Second Amendment rights to “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home,” and the current statute is a lawful restriction on that basis.

A ruling in favor of Rahimi could strike down the federal law, thus eliminating a key tool for protecting vulnerable victims of domestic abuse.

Southern Baptists have long advocated for the value and protection of life, whether such life is preborn, children who are adopted or who have been placed in foster care, or vulnerable women and children suffering from domestic abuse. Removing a law that is already in place would open up vulnerable women and children to further abuse and likely result in the taking of their lives.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this case on Nov. 7, 2023, and is expected to issue a ruling by the end of June. 

By / Apr 3

WASHINGTON (BP) – The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments April 24 in a case involving an Idaho law which bans nearly all abortions in the state.

The case involves a challenge to the law, known as the “Defense of Life Act,” which makes it a felony for doctors to perform most abortions, except those performed when necessary to save the life of the mother.

On Jan. 5, the Supreme Court ruled Idaho can enforce the law while the court case is being resolved. This ruling put on hold a lower court ruling which blocked the Idaho law, based upon a lawsuit filed by the Biden administration.

The Justice Department has argued that Idaho’s ban on abortion is preempted by a federal law passed in 1986 called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which requires hospitals that receive Medicare funds to provide emergency medical care. Their challenge to Idaho’s abortion ban argues that abortion is implied as a necessary component of emergency medical care.

Two cases, Moyle v. United States and Idaho v. United States, were consolidated by the Supreme Court to be heard together. Mike Moyle is the Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives. A decision on the case is expected by early summer.

“Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments centering on the Biden Administration’s claim that there is a clash between Idaho’s Defense of Life Act and the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA,” said Hannah Daniel, policy director for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

“Both Idaho’s pro-life law and EMTALA were passed with the intention of protecting the lives of both women and their preborn children, but the Biden Administration has twisted EMTALA to force emergency room doctors to provide abortions, disregarding the requirement of EMTALA to care for the preborn child. For Southern Baptists, this case doesn’t merely address a legal question. It underscores the need to defend life, protect conscience rights, and uphold the dignity of every human being, born and preborn. We affirm the sanctity of all life and firmly reject the misuse of vital statutes like EMTALA that were initially developed to protect life and urge the Court to rule accordingly.”

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Apr 1

On Nov. 7, 2023, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of United States v. Rahimi. The central issue in this case is whether a federal law that prohibits individuals with a standing domestic violence restraining order from owning firearms violates the Second Amendment. This case could have significant implications for the intersection of Second Amendment rights, domestic violence, and the protection of vulnerable lives. 

Why does United States v. Rahimi matter for Southern Baptists?

The ERLC did not file an amicus brief in the Rahimi case. However, there are two SBC resolutions that are relevant to the arguments and outcome of the case.

1. In 1979, the SBC passed a resolution on domestic violence, recognizing it as “one of the serious moral issues of our time.” Additionally, the resolution encourages the “establishment of clear and responsible public policy related to domestic violence, which policy should be effective at the local, state, and national levels.” 

2. In 2018, the SBC also passed a resolution on gun violence. As the resolution notes, “gun violence perpetrated against innocent persons is incompatible with the character of Jesus Christ.” The resolution affirms that gun ownership carries with it a great responsibility and calls on federal, state, and local authorities to implement preventative measures that would reduce gun violence and mass shootings while operating in accordance with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

What is the case about?

The Supreme Court’s ruling will determine whether it is constitutional to prohibit individuals who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms.

The law at the center of the case is 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), which prohibits the possession of firearms by individuals who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders. Here’s what happened:

  • Zackey Rahimi was convicted of possessing a gun while subject to a domestic violence protective order, which was issued after he violently assaulted his domestic partner in a parking lot and shot a gun when he noticed that others had witnessed his abuse. 
  • Rahimi challenged the law as a violation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
  • Until the 2022 Supreme Court ruling in New York Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, the constitutionality of this statute was consistently affirmed. 
  • However, this decision in Bruen has cast doubt on the stability of established firearm regulations by altering the judicial approach to Second Amendment scrutiny. 
  • The decision in Bruen established a “historical tradition” test for evaluating firearm regulations, which examines whether a regulation is consistent with longstanding principles, not whether it has a direct historical analogue.
  • Following this Bruen precedent, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, reversed the standing federal law within these states in the Rahimi case.

What are the arguments that §922(g)(8) should be considered unconstitutional?

Some of the arguments made by those who support the 5th Circuit’s determination that the law is unconstitutional are: 

  • Second Amendment: Some argue that the possession prong of §922(g)(8) prohibits and severely punishes conduct protected by the plain text of the Second Amendment, specifically the “right of the people” to “keep and bear arms” that “shall not be infringed.”
  • Due Process: Critics claim that the section does not require notice of the statute and the consequences of violating it, which they argue violates the Due Process Clause.
  • Equal Protection Clause: It has been argued that §922(g)(8)(C)(ii) is unconstitutional as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, as it treats individuals differently based on their status as prohibited persons.
  • Lack of historical support: It has been argued that the government’s efforts to defend §922(g)(8) are incompatible with the Second Amendment and the Constitution as a whole, as they lack support from precedent, rejected constitutional proposals, and the original intent of the Founders.
  • Ineffective and unnecessary: Some have argued that §922(g)(8) is a blunt instrument that does not effectively address the problem it targets, and that there are alternative means of addressing the issue of domestic violence without infringing on the Second Amendment

What are the arguments that §922(g)(8) should be considered constitutional?

  • Public safety: Proponents of the law argue that it is necessary to protect domestic violence survivors and prevent further acts of violence by prohibiting individuals with domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms
  • Constitutional interpretation: Supporters of the law believe that it is a reasonable restriction on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, as it is narrowly tailored to address a specific and compelling government interest. They say the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen established a “historical tradition” test for evaluating firearm regulations, which examines whether a regulation is consistent with longstanding principles, not whether it has a direct historical analogue.
  • Necessary for the common good: Basic principles reflected in U.S. tradition include the government’s role in promoting the common good by protecting human life and dignity, showing special concern for the vulnerable, and respecting family autonomy while intervening when necessary to prevent domestic violence. They claim this law only bans the possession of guns by individuals who are truly dangerous.
  • Consistent with historical regulation: The tradition of firearm regulation in the U.S. allows disarming dangerous individuals to protect the innocent. Laws dating back to the founding era restricted access to firearms by those deemed a threat.
  • Adheres to traditional principles: Some proponents claim that §922(g)(8), which prohibits firearm possession by persons subject to domestic violence restraining orders, adheres to these traditional principles by disarming only those who have shown a willingness to commit violence. They claim the Fifth Circuit erred by requiring an exact historical match for the law and by questioning assumptions about restraining orders, and that the analysis should have focused on identifying relevant traditional principles and evaluating consistency.

What happens next in United States v. Rahimi?

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this case in November, and a decision is anticipated in May or June. 

During oral arguments, the U.S. solicitor general made a compelling argument that upholding this law is in line with Justice Scalia’s opinion in the 2008 Heller decision, which maintained the application of Second Amendment rights to “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”

Though we will not know the final ruling until an opinion is released, a majority of the court seemed poised to rule in the government’s favor.

By / Mar 28

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on access to an abortion pill in two combined cases—FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and Danco Laboratories, LLC v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine. These cases are significant legal battles challenging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of mifepristone (i.e., the “abortion pill”), a drug commonly used in chemical abortion procedures. In these cases, pro-life doctors have contested the FDA’s approval of mifepristone and its efforts to increase access to this abortion pill.

Though initially challenging the original FDA approval of the drug, the case has now been limited to challenging the subsequent actions of the FDA that removed important safety precautions from the drug’s usage. The lawsuits aim to reinstate these protections for women across the United States, likely significantly impacting the accessibility of chemical abortion (also known as “medication abortion”) nationwide. 

Here is ​​what you should know about the case and the oral arguments on access to this abortion pill

What are those cases about?

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 nonfatal complications from chemical abortion drugs. 

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

These cases are centered around challenging those actions by the FDA in hopes of reinstating such precautions. Both cases have drawn extensive support and opposition from various groups, including pharmaceutical companies, medical organizations, government officials, rights groups, and experts who have submitted amicus briefs in favor of maintaining or ending the FDA’s approval of mifepristone for medication abortion. (The ERLC submitted an amicus brief in favor of the plaintiffs.)

The U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments on these cases marks a critical moment in the ongoing legal battle surrounding access to medication abortion in the U.S.

What are oral arguments?

Oral arguments are not a requirement for a Supreme Court case. In fact, only about 53–70% of cases accepted by the court each year include oral arguments. But oral arguments provide the public ​​​their first glimpse into what issues or concerns the justices consider most relevant. Observers of the court must be cautious, though, because it’s difficult to impossible to tell how a case will be decided based only on this process.

  • During oral arguments, an attorney for each side of a case is given the opportunity to make a presentation to the court and answer questions posed by the justices.
  • Before this process begins, each side in the case submitted a written legal argument outlining each party’s points of law.
  • The justices will have read these briefs prior to argument and are thoroughly familiar with the case, its facts, and the legal positions that each party is advocating.

As the Supreme Court website notes, “The arguments are an opportunity for the Justices to ask questions directly of the attorneys representing the parties to the case, and for the attorneys to highlight arguments that they view as particularly important.” 

What issues were raised by the justices?

The Supreme Court justices primarily directed their inquiries towards two key aspects of the case:

  • first, whether the physicians who initiated the legal action against the FDA had demonstrated potential harm resulting from the agency’s decisions, given them standing to bring this challenge,
  • and second, whether a causal link could be established between the alleged damages and the FDA’s relaxation of the regulations.

The majority of the argument focused on the issue of whether the doctors who brought the case had proven they were harmed by the FDA’s actions. 

  • Chief Justice John Roberts raised the question of whether the courts had the option to grant limited relief that would solely impact the physicians directly involved in the legal case, rather than pursuing a more expansive approach that would implicate the FDA on a broader scale.
  • Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked whether federal law provides some conscience protections for doctors who object to providing an abortion on moral and religious grounds, to which Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar replied, “Yes, we think that federal conscience protections provide broad coverage here.” 
  • Justice Amy Coney Barrett questioned how the doctors who brought the case could be harmed since it didn’t appear that either physician had participated in the procedure.
  • Justice Neil Gorsuch said, “This case seems like a prime example of turning what could be a small lawsuit into a nationwide legislative assembly.” 
  • In contrast, Justice Samuel Alito asked who would have the ability to sue the FDA in this case. “Is there anybody who can sue and get a judicial ruling on whether what FDA did was lawful?” he asked. “And maybe what they did was perfectly lawful. But shouldn’t somebody be able to challenge that in court?” 

What is the expected outcome based on the reaction of the justices?

Should the court conclude that the doctors lack the necessary legal standing to pursue the lawsuit, it holds the authority to dismiss the case in its entirety without rendering a judgment on the legality of the FDA’s actions when it eased the restrictions surrounding the acquisition of mifepristone.

Observers of the hearing seem to agree that there did not seem to be a majority of five justices who would be willing to issue a sweeping decision that would significantly weaken the FDA’s authority to allow mifepristone to be sent through the mail or without a woman ever seeing a doctor in person.

What happens next?

The court will now spend the next few months writing and deliberating about this case. The final decision will likely come sometime in June. Regardless of how this case is decided, the ERLC will press forward in our fight against the predatory abortion industry and for the cause of life.

By / Mar 8

NASHVILLE (BP) – The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has filed an amicus brief in an upcoming Supreme Court case which will rule on the availability of mifepristone, a drug commonly used in medication abortions.

The case, Food and Drug Administration v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, will be the first time the Supreme Court has weighed in on the issue of abortion since the historic overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022.

The High Court will review an August 2023 decision made by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that placed limitations on the availability and usage of mifepristone. The ruling of the appeals court would end the availability of the drug by mail, allow the drug to be used only through the seventh week of pregnancy (rather than the previous limitation of 10 weeks) and require the drug to be administered in the presence of a physician.

This ruling, put on hold by the Supreme Court until its decision is handed down, would reverse changes the FDA made in 2016 and 2021 that eased conditions for obtaining the drug.

Originally approved by the FDA in 2000, mifepristone is reportedly used for more than half of all abortions in the United States. The drug is made by New-York based Danco Laboratories and is used in combination with a second drug, misoprostol, in medication abortions.

After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many pro-life advocates turned their attention to the issue of medication abortion. Advocates filed a challenge to mifepristone in November 2022. In April 2023, a federal judge in Texas suspended the FDA’s original approval of the drug and its later changes to conditions for accessing the drug which made it more widely available.

The Department of Justice appealed this decision to the Fifth Circuit, leading to the decision from last August. Although the appeals court ruled to uphold access limitations for the drug, it did not rule in favor of revoking the FDA’s initial approval of it, saying efforts for reversal came too late.

In September 2023, both the Biden administration and Danco appealed to the Supreme Court to review and reverse the Fifth Circuit’s ruling. Danco is involved in a separate case, Danco Laboratories v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, which also focuses on mifepristone. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine is a medical pro-life advocacy group.

In December, the High Court agreed to review both appeals, later announcing oral arguments will be heard on March 26. The two cases will be heard together.

Since this announcement, doctors, pro-life advocacy groups, more than 20 states and more than 100 members of Congress have filed amicus briefs in the FDA case.

The ERLC filed an amicus brief on Feb. 29 alongside two fellow pro-life organizations, Human Coalition and National Association of Evangelicals.

Hannah Daniel, policy director for the ERLC, said the brief focuses on both the tremendous loss of life mifepristone has caused and its traumatic effect on the women who have used it.

“As Southern Baptists, we know that abortion takes the life of a precious child made in the image of God,” Daniel said.

Chemical abortion not only takes that life but also leaves physical and emotional scars on thousands of women who take these harmful drugs. The brief that we have filed before the Supreme Court tells the stories of those women who were sold lies and faced the horrific realities of chemical abortion. Through these powerful stories, we are urging the Court to uphold the Fifth Circuit’s ruling and reinstate vital safety precautions that will radically limit the usage of mifepristone.

Hannah Daniel

The brief is broken down into four different points of argument:

  1. Medication abortion causes significant physical harm to women.
  2. Abortion psychologically damages women.
  3. Unfettered access to mifepristone will likely increase reproductive coercion and crimes against pregnant women.
  4. All human life is valuable and must be protected from the dangers of mifepristone.

The document condemns the FDA’s approach to mifepristone over the years, and the negative effects it has caused.

“The FDA’s removal of the in-person dispensing requirement has already led to increased harm to women,” the brief states. “The FDA data shows that 12.5% of the total deaths reported to the FDA since mifepristone was approved in 2000 were recorded during the last 6 months of 2022. During this period, women were not required to visit an abortion provider to obtain a medication abortion.

“What’s more, amici believe in the inherent dignity and worth of all human beings—including women and unborn children. Amici also affirm that every human is made in the image of God and must be protected from harm. The FDA has placed the incalculably valuable lives of women and their children in harm’s way in the pursuit of political favor. Its decision cannot stand.

“The FDA’s removal of important safeguards for mothers harms the physical and mental well-being of women and ends human lives.”

The brief also includes the aforementioned personal testimonies of women who have experienced the negative effects of mifepristone first-hand. It concludes with a stern word against the FDA’s approval of the drug and its potential future.

“The FDA failed millions of women and their unborn children when it eliminated necessary safeguards for mifepristone at the insistence of the abortion industry. Even with safeguards in place, medication abortion caused severe damage to the physical and mental health of women, while ending the lives of children. Women and their unborn children alone will bear the costs of the FDA’s irresponsible deregulation of medication abortion.”

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

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 / Jun 30

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision in the 303 Creative case that the state of Colorado violated the First Amendment rights of petitioner Lorie Smith by enforcing state anti-discrimination laws against her graphic design business, compelling her to speak in a way that violated her beliefs. Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the court, with Justices Alito, Barrett, Kavanaugh, Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts joining. Justice Sotomayor filed the dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Kagan and Jackson.

ERLC President Brent Leatherwood commented on this ruling:

If the government can compel an individual to speak a certain way or create certain things, that’s not freedom—it’s subjugation. And that is precisely what the state of  Colorado wanted.

Thankfully, the court has stepped in to say that individual rights may not be paved over by a zealous government. Colorado’s scheme of compulsion and coercion against creators has failed once more. 

But the implications of this ruling extend throughout the nation: People are free to speak, create, and operate in ways that are consistent with their deepest-held beliefs—even when those beliefs are deemed culturally unpopular.

What did the 303 Creative case decision say?

Today’s decision is a landmark ruling in favor of free speech. Quoting previous cases, the court highlighted that the framers designed the First Amendment to protect the freedom to think and speak as one wishes. The government cannot suppress speech simply because it deems it “misinformed or offensive” (17). The court emphasized that technological advancements, such as the internet, do not diminish the protections afforded by the First Amendment. 

Though the opinion recognized the important role that public accommodation laws have played and continue to play in our nation, it noted that these laws can “sweep too broadly when deployed to compel speech” (14) and that “no public accommodations law is immune from the demands of the Constitution” (14). The court took an expansive view of what should be considered “speech,” and thus, be afforded First Amendment protections. 

It also rejected arguments made that Lorie Smith was merely facilitating the speech of others through the creation of a website. It also rejected claims that because each creative professional is unique, prospective clients would be unable to find a satisfactory alternative. As Justice Gorsuch wrote, this would mean that “the more unique his talent, the more easily his voice could be conscripted to disseminate the government’s preferred messages. That would not respect the First Amendment; more nearly, it would spell its demise” (15).

Rather, the First Amendment was designed to establish the United States as “a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands” (26). Justice Gorsuch clarified, “Of course, abiding the Constitution’s commitment to the freedom of speech means all of us will encounter ideas we consider ‘unattractive, misguided, or even hurtful,’ but tolerance, not coercion, is our Nation’s answer” (25-26).

Why does this decision in the 303 Creative case matter for Southern Baptists?

This ruling provides yet another legal victory for free speech, affirming that creative professionals possess the First Amendment protections necessary to express their core convictions in the marketplace and public square. The ruling also clarifies the understanding of the Free Speech Clause, which carries positive implications for individuals seeking First Amendment protections in the arts and business sectors. Though this case was a win for free speech, it was also a win for religious liberty.

As Southern Baptists, our beliefs on matters of marriage and gender are core to our convictions, pointing to God’s design and the living picture of Christ and his Church. It is essential that people of faith not only have the ability to believe these fundamental truths but also to express them in the public square.

The First Amendment protects this right, and the court’s ruling affirms these robust constitutional protections for free speech —  even when that speech is culturally unpopular. 

What is this 303 Creative case about?

Lorie Smith, owner of the web design firm 303 Creative, challenged a Colorado law that violates her First Amendment rights—the same law used to target Christian cake designer Jack Phillips in the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. In that case, the court ruled favorably for Phillips on narrow grounds but failed to address the underlying conflict between anti-discrimination laws and free speech rights.

Like Phillips, Lorie Smith is a creative professional who serves others through her business. She has created custom websites for people of all backgrounds, but she refuses to use her design skills and creativity to express messages inconsistent with her Christian convictions.

This case first arose when the state of Colorado categorized Smith’s work as a public accommodation. This subjected her business to review under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination, including refusal of service, against any protected class, including sexual orientation or gender identity. This placed Smith’s desire to run her business according to her beliefs in direct conflict with Colorado law.

How did the ERLC engage this case?

The ERLC has written in favor of Lorie Smith, preparing Christians and Southern Baptist churches to respond to this important decision. The ERLC believes that all of our foundational First Amendment rights are interconnected; a weakening of one is a weakening of them all. The Supreme Court has once again affirmed a robust view of these foundational rights, and we applaud this ruling in favor of freedom of speech in the public square. We will continue to advocate for religious freedom, as well as God’s design for marriage and family, no matter what views are fashionable at the time.

By / Jun 30

Here are five recent Supreme Court rulings you should know about. The decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court often directly affect Southern Baptist pastors and churches and the people they serve. That’s why every year the ERLC actively engages in the judicial process on issues that hold immense importance for our churches and the gospel.

But the court also issues rulings in cases that, while they aren’t directly related to the issues we work on, intersect with or are related to topics of concern for Southern Baptists. Here are five recent Supreme Court rulings from the most recent term. 

Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admission v. UNC 

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on two cases brought by Students for Fair Admissions, Inc (SFFA). The cases—SFFA v. UNC and SFFA v. President and Fellows of Harvardaddressed the consideration of race in college admissions. The court was asked to consider whether institutions of higher education can use race as a factor in admissions, and whether Harvard College was violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by penalizing Asian American applicants, engaging in racial balancing, overemphasizing race, and rejecting workable race-neutral alternatives.

The court ruled that colleges and universities can no longer take race into consideration as an express factor in admissions, a landmark decision that overturns long-standing precedent. In the 1978 case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the court considered a quota system in place at the University of California and established the constitutionality of affirmative action programs 

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the only Black woman on the court, wrote that the majority had “detached itself from this country’s actual past and present experiences.” But Justice Clarence Thomas, the only Black man on the court, said, “While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination, I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.”

United States v. Texas

In United States v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked Article III standing to challenge immigration-enforcement guidelines issued by the Secretary of Homeland Security. These guidelines were issued in a memorandum by the Department of Homeland Security to the Acting Director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instructing ICE officials to prioritize the removal of noncitizens who pose a threat to national security, public safety, or border security.

The purpose of these guidelines was to provide a framework for ICE to exercise prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement and to promote consistency and transparency in the enforcement of immigration laws. The Biden administration also argued that these guidelines were necessary to prioritize limited resources and focus on individuals who pose a greater risk to the country. However, Texas and Louisiana challenged the legality of these guidelines, arguing that they restrained ICE agents from fully enforcing immigration laws. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked standing to challenge these rules, reinforcing the federal government’s unique role in setting immigration policy.

Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh 

On May 18, the Supreme Court issued opinions in two related cases, Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh. In the Taamneh case, the court unanimously ruled that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to establish that the defendants (Twitter, Google, and Facebook) aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the relevant attack. 

In both cases the plaintiffs made arguments related to the application of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Additionally, in the Gonzalez v. Google case, the plaintiffs argued that Google, through its subsidiary YouTube, aided, abetted, and conspired with ISIS by allowing the terrorist group to use its platform to spread propaganda and recruit members. The plaintiffs claimed that Google’s algorithms and revenue-sharing practices contributed to the spread of ISIS content on YouTube, and that Google should be held liable for the deaths of their family members in an ISIS attack in Jordan in 2016. In the Twitter v. Taamneh case, the plaintiffs alleged that Twitter, Google, and Facebook aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out an attack in Istanbul in 2017. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants provided material support to ISIS by allowing the group to use their platforms to spread propaganda and recruit members.

The court unanimously ruled in the Taamneh case that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to establish that the defendants aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the attack. Based on that ruling, the court declined to address the issues raised about the application of Section 230 protection from liability for aiding terrorists in the Gonzalez v. Google case and remanded it back to the lower courts.

Haaland v. Brackeen 

In the case of Haaland v. Brackeen, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to reject challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal statute that aims to protect the future of Tribal Nations (i.e., the 574 federally recognized Indian Nations) and promote the best interests of Native American children. The case was brought by a birth mother, foster and adoptive parents, and the state of Texas, who claimed that the ICWA exceeds federal authority, infringes state sovereignty, and discriminates on the basis of race. 

The ICWA is a federal law that was passed in 1978 to protect the well-being and best interests of Native American children and families. The law aims to uphold family integrity and stability and to keep Native children connected to their community and culture. ICWA establishes minimum federal standards for the removal of Native children from their families and placement of such children in homes that reflect the unique values of Native culture.  

The Supreme Court rejected these challenges and upheld the ICWA, a victory for the Biden administration and several Native American tribes that defended the law. The majority opinion authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett said the court “declines to disturb the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion that ICWA is consistent with” Congress’s authority under the Constitution in Article I. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were the only justices to dissent. 

Moore v. Harper 

The case of Moore v. Harper involved the controversial independent state legislature theory (ISL). This theory arose from the redistricting of North Carolina’s districts by the North Carolina legislature following the 2020 census, which the state courts found to be too artificial and partisan, and an extreme case of gerrymandering in favor of the Republican Party. ISL asserts that only the state legislature itself has the power to set the rules for making state laws that apply to federal elections, from drawing congressional district lines to determining the who-what-when-where of casting a ballot. 

The Supreme Court of North Carolina granted a rehearing in the underlying case, which prompted the justices to request additional briefing on whether they still had the power to rule in Moore. On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the “independent state legislature theory” in a 6-3 decision, affirming the lower court’s ruling that the congressional map violated the state constitution and dismissing the plaintiffs’ lawsuits. The case was decided in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh filing a concurring opinion, and Justice Thomas dissenting. The case was one of the most high-profile cases the Supreme Court has taken up in recent years, with former federal judge Michael Luttig calling it the “single most important case on American democracy—and for American democracy—in the nation’s history.”

By / Jun 30

Washington, D.C., June 30, 2023—Brent Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, affirmed today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the 303 Creative v. Elenis case, stating that “individual rights may not be paved over by a zealous government.”

In response to the court’s ruling in the 303 Creative free speech case, Leatherwood said: 

“If the government can compel an individual to speak a certain way or create certain things, that’s not freedom—it’s subjugation. And that is precisely what the state of  Colorado wanted.

Thankfully, the court has stepped in to say that individual rights may not be paved over by a zealous government. Colorado’s scheme of compulsion and coercion against creators has failed once more.

But the implications of this ruling extend throughout the nation: People are free to speak, create, and operate in ways that are consistent with their deepest-held beliefs—even when those beliefs are deemed culturally unpopular.

What did the court decide in the 303 Creative free speech case?

The Supreme Court has delivered a landmark ruling in favor of free speech. Quoting previous cases, the court highlighted that the framers designed the First Amendment to protect the freedom to think and speak according to one’s deeply held convictions. The government cannot suppress speech simply because it deems it “misinformed or offensive.” The court emphasized that technological advancements, such as the internet, do not diminish the protections afforded by the First Amendment. 

As Justice Gorsuch noted in the opinion, “No public accommodations law is immune from the demands of the Constitution” (14). The First Amendment was designed to establish the United States as “a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands” (26). Justice Gorsuch clarified, “Of course, abiding the Constitution’s commitment to the freedom of speech means all of us will encounter ideas we consider ‘unattractive, misguided, or even hurtful,’ but tolerance, not coercion, is our Nation’s answer” (25-26).

What was the 303 Creative free speech case about?

Since 2016, Lorie Smith, founder of the web design firm 303 Creative, has been in the process of challenging a Colorado law that violates her First Amendment rights. 

This same law was used to target Jack Phillips and led to the 2018 Supreme Court Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act. In that case, the court ruled favorably for Phillips on narrow grounds but failed to address the underlying conflict between anti-discrimination laws and free speech rights.

Smith has created various custom websites for people of all backgrounds, but she refuses to use her “design skills and creativity to express messages that violate her deeply held religious convictions,” including the creation of a wedding website for a same-sex couple. 

Why does this case matter to Southern Baptists?

“Southern Baptists have long subscribed to the belief that people of faith should not only be able to hold biblical convictions about marriage and gender, but also to live them out in the public square,” said Hannah Daniel, ERLC policy manager. “No one should be forced to sacrifice their most deeply held beliefs to participate in the marketplace and contribute to our society.” 

More information about this case and ERLC advocacy is available online at the SCOTUS Resource Page.

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 13.6 million members and a network of over 47,000 cooperating churches and congregations. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

To request an interview with Brent Leatherwood,
contact Elizabeth Bristow by email at [email protected] or call 202-547-0209
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