9th Circuit rules against temporary federal protections for pro-life groups
SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit refused Thursday in a 2-1 ruling to reinstate temporary federal regulations that protect religious and pro-life organizations that conscientiously object to complying with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ abortion-pill mandate. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent pro-life organization March for Life, which intervened in the case in defense of the HHS protections.
The previous administration implemented the mandate to force employers, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide their employees with abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception under threat of heavy financial penalties.
“The government shouldn’t be forcing anyone to provide life-destroying drugs and devices,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor, who argued before the 9th Circuit in October. “HHS rightly freed organizations like March for Life and the Little Sisters of the Poor from the abortion-pill mandate. California and other states filed a lawsuit that resulted in a court order that blocked those new rules. The 9th Circuit should have lifted that order and affirmed these protections, which simply ensure that pro-life organizations can pursue their missions consistent with their most foundational beliefs.”
In 2014, March for Life challenged the abortion-pill mandate in March for Life v. Burwell, which came to a close in September when the U.S. Department of Justice dropped its appeal of a 2015 permanent injunction, and a federal court agreed to dismiss the case.
The temporary HHS rules, issued in October 2017, were designed to free objecting employers from the abortion-pill mandate and pave the way to potential resolution of numerous outstanding lawsuits. HHS recently published final versions of the new protections, and they are scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 14. Today’s decision does not affect those final rules, but California and other states plan to challenge them.
On Oct. 6, 2017, the same day that HHS initially issued its temporary rules protecting both religious and non-religious organizations, the state of California—later joined by Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Virginia—filed the lawsuit State of California v. Azar in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to challenge the rules. On Dec. 21 that year, the court granted the states’ request to block implementation of the rules.
That month, March for Life asked the court to allow it to participate in the case. After the court granted that request, ADF attorneys filed an appeal on behalf of March for Life asking the 9th Circuit to overturn the district court’s decision to temporarily block the new HHS rules.
Brian R. Chavez-Ochoa of the Chavez-Ochoa Law Offices in Valley Springs, California, one of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as co-counsel on behalf of March for Life.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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