WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing pro-life organization March for Life asked the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday to uphold U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rules which protect organizations with religious or moral objections to a federal requirement that their health plans cover abortifacients. The Obama administration implemented the requirement, which forces many employers to provide employees with abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception through their health plans under threat of heavy financial penalties, regardless of the employers’ religious or moral convictions.
The petition filed with the court in March for Life Education and Defense Fund v. California asks it to wipe out a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decision. The Supreme Court is already considering a 3rd Circuit decision in two similar cases that the high court accepted in January. The same HHS protections are at issue in both sets of cases.
“The government shouldn’t be forcing anyone to violate their conscience by providing drugs and devices that can destroy life,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “We are asking the Supreme Court to affirm the HHS protections, which ensure that pro-life organizations like March for Life and Little Sisters of the Poor can pursue their missions consistent with their beliefs.”
“The 9th Circuit was wrong to take away those safeguards,” added ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, director of the ADF Center for Life. “We are asking the Supreme Court to confirm that organizations and individuals have the right to act consistent with their religious and moral convictions.”
As the petition filed with the Supreme Court explains, “the final rules are balanced, address all relevant considerations, and attempt to restore societal peace…. [T]he Ninth Circuit’s holding that executive officials have no duty to uphold the constitutional or statutory rights of conscientious objectors absent a court order is wrong…. It is hard to imagine courts requiring executive officials to disregard any other legal obligation in this way.”
In 2014, March for Life challenged the abortifacient requirement in March for Life v. Burwell, which came to a close in September 2018 when the U.S. Department of Justice dropped its appeal of a 2015 permanent injunction.
HHS issued temporary rules in October 2017 that were designed to free objecting employers from the requirement and pave the way to potential resolution of numerous outstanding lawsuits. On Oct. 6, 2017, the same day that HHS issued its temporary rules, the state of California—later joined by other states who similarly favor abortion subsidies and oppose freedom of conscience—filed the lawsuit State of California v. Azar in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to challenge the rules. In December 2017, March for Life asked the court to allow it to participate in the case, and the court granted that request. HHS then published final versions of the new protections, but the district court blocked them before they were supposed to go into effect in January 2019.
Brian R. Chavez-Ochoa of the Chavez-Ochoa Law Offices in Valley Springs, California, one of more than 3,400 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as co-counsel on behalf of March for Life.
- Pronunciation guide: Theriot (TAIR’-ee-oh)
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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