This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings on two cases that are important to the Church as a whole. The first, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, dealt with Texas’s controversial “House Bill 2.” This law restricted doctors from performing abortions beyond 20-weeks gestation and required abortion clinic doctors to have, among other things, admitting privileges at qualified hospitals. The abortion industry challenged these requirements, arguing that they placed an “undue burden” on women seeking to exercise their so-called right to an abortion. The Supreme Court ruled that certain portions of the Texas law are unconstitutional, namely, the requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at qualified hospitals.
The second case, Storman’s, Inc. v. Wiesman, dealt with regulations in Washington State that require pharmacists to dispense abortion-inducing drugs to patients, regardless of the pharmacist’s religious objections to such practices. Instead of hearing the case, the Supreme Court allowed the ruling of a lower court to stand. That lower court had ruled that the regulations on pharmacists did not violate their First Amendment rights. Therefore, the regulations remain in place.
These cases represent serious challenges for Christians in the United States of America, as we seek simultaneously to live faithfully to the Lord and be subject to the governing authorities. So, what are the implications of these cases?
Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt
The Court’s decision to strike down portions of the Texas abortion law deviates significantly from previous Supreme Court decisions on abortion (legal precedent). In his dissenting opinion, Justice Thomas suggests that the Court’s abortion jurisprudence has “gone off the rails.” In effect, the Court created a new level of scrutiny for abortion cases, which now views any restrictions on abortion access as suspect from the beginning. In other words, the constitutional bar has been raised significantly for abortion law, and this arbitrary standard will only create more confusion in the years to come.
But there is still cause for hope. Notably, the abortion industry did not challenge Texas' 20-week abortion ban. This is significant, although it has gone widely unreported. The simple fact is that medical science does not support abortions after 20 weeks. The scientific consensus overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that unborn babies feel pain as early as 20 weeks. And anything that feels pain is much more than a “clump of cells.” Thus, in Texas and many other states, abortion after 20 weeks gestation remains illegal, with narrow exceptions.
Storman’s, Inc. v. Wiesman
On the other hand, the Storman’s case foreshadows a troublesome future for Christians seeking to live out their faith in the workplace. The Supreme Court decided that the Storman’s appeal wasn’t even worth its time in considering. Justice Alito, however, believes that the Court made a grave mistake. In a dissenting opinion, he writes:
This case is an ominous sign. At issue are Washington State regulations that are likely to make a pharmacist unemployable if he or she objects on religious grounds to dispensing certain prescription medications. There are strong reasons to doubt whether the regulations were adopted for—or that they actually serve—any legitimate purpose. And there is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the State. Yet the Ninth Circuit held that the regulations do not violate the First Amendment, and this Court does not deem the case worthy of our time. If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.
Justice Alito does not exaggerate. Christian pharmacists in Washington face a difficult choice: violate your deeply held religious beliefs, or find a new career. The state of Washington has targeted (with hostility, according to Justice Alito) family-owned pharmacies for not adhering to the sexual orthodoxy of the age.
As Christians, our ultimate hope does not reside with this nation or its rulers, but we still must live here. And we must do so faithfully. Our ultimate faithfulness is to Christ and His gospel, whatever the cost. As we face the inevitable challenges ahead, let us pray for wisdom and courage. Wisdom to know what is right, and courage to live accordingly. Let us say with David, “I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly” (Psalm 52:9).