Supreme Court pauses on abortion medication ruling

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Supreme Court continues pause on ruling that limits access to abortion medication

April 20, 2023 -

The Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, April 14, 2023. The Supreme Court said Friday it was temporarily keeping in place federal rules for use of an abortion drug, while it takes time to more fully consider the issues raised in a court challenge. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, April 14, 2023. The Supreme Court said Friday it was temporarily keeping in place federal rules for use of an abortion drug, while it takes time to more fully consider the issues raised in a court challenge. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, April 14, 2023. The Supreme Court said Friday it was temporarily keeping in place federal rules for use of an abortion drug, while it takes time to more fully consider the issues raised in a court challenge. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Supreme Court extended a pause yesterday afternoon on a lower-court ruling that sought to limit access to a commonly used abortion pill. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. announced that the court would extend its stay through Friday evening so it could have more time to consider the case.

At issue is the drug mifepristone, which first won FDA approval in 2000. Competing rulings by federal judges in Texas and Washington have put the drug’s availability in question.

A related story concerns telehealth abortion by which virtual healthcare providers who have no physical locations help women obtain abortion medications. One telehealth abortion provider asks, “How in good conscience can I not do this?” As one who believes life is sacred from the moment of conception, I would ask her a different question regarding her conscience and how she understands her oath as a physician to “do no harm.”

Why is the Supreme Court ruling on a “right” Congress has never established in law? This question is obviously relevant to millions of unborn babies whose lives hang in the balance. But it is also a symptom of a deeper narrative that explains why America allows elective abortion at all.

What legal logic produced legal abortion?

There are two broad schools of thought with regard to the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the US Constitution.

One is termed “originalist” and, as the name implies, seeks to identify the original intent of the constitutional authors and apply that intended meaning to current issues. The other is the “living Constitution” school that, as the name implies, uses the Constitution (some say subjectively) to address issues the framers could never have anticipated with less concern for their original intent.

Roe v. Wade is Exhibit A of the latter school. No one argues that the framers intended to address, much less endorse, abortion on demand. The justices who handed down Roe in 1973 discovered—some say invented—such a right in the Fourteenth Amendment. Critics (myself among them) argue that the justices transgressed their constitutional boundaries in so doing. In our view, if the Constitution does not intentionally speak to an issue, it is the role of Congress, not the courts, to write new laws that address this issue.

In other words, Congress is supposed to make the laws; the courts then hold these laws accountable to constitutional and legal precedents and norms.

This discussion is obviously vital to American democracy. However, it is also a window into an even larger cultural movement occurring before our eyes.

Religious without religion?

In yesterday’s New York Times, opinion writer Jessica Grose responds to the perceived—and much reported—decline of religion in the US. She discusses a fact critics of religion have a hard time explaining: the large majority of Americans remain religious. Sixty percent of respondents in a recent survey said that religion was somewhat or very important to them, while only 19 percent said religion was not important to them at all.

By contrast, in a widely reported Gallup survey, US church membership recently fell below 50 percent for the first time. Church attendance has declined in recent years, while the percentage of Americans who say they seldom or never attend services has risen to 57 percent.

How can we be religious and yet not participate in religion? Grose cites Duke Divinity School sociology professor Mark Chaves, who notes that two things can be true at the same time: “The decline in religious belief and interest is much slower than the decline in organizational participation.”

We can make such a distinction between belief and practice only by ignoring clear biblical teaching such as Hebrews 10:25: “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The clear precedent of early Christianity embraces corporate worship (Colossians 3:16), Bible study (Acts 2:42), and encouragement (Hebrews 10:24–25).

What we owe preborn children

The idea that we can choose what Christianity means rather than deferring to Christ’s teachings is a symptom of our postmodern insistence that all truth is personal and individual. This worldview feeds and is advanced by the “living Constitution” agenda that invented “rights” to abortion and same-sex marriage the founders clearly did not intend to provide.

Millions of Americans make the same personal decision regarding abortion. For example, many call themselves “pro-choice” rather than “pro-abortion” as though the former does not enable the latter. In their view, reality is what they believe it to be.

Of course, refusing to call a preborn baby a baby does not change its status as a human, its sacredness before God, or the tragedy of its death in its mother’s womb.

You and I owe preborn children, their mothers, and our larger society a commitment to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) so we can say with Paul, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). By our personal witness, passionate daily intercession, political engagement, and sacrificial support for pro-life ministries, we can make a difference for millions of lives, one life at a time.

Ronald Reagan made the simple but powerful point: “I’ve noticed that everybody who is for abortion has already been born.” Former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said of his work on behalf of life: “No grown child has ever come back to ask me why.”

No life saved through our intercession and advocacy will ever ask us that question, either.

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