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January 22, 2016 0

Forty-Three Years after Roe v. Wade We Continue to Fight for Reproductive Freedom

Forty-three years ago the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its water­shed deci­sion in Roe v. Wade, hold­ing that a woman’s con­sti­tu­tional right to pri­vacy includes the right to access an abor­tion. By guar­an­tee­ing women the right to deter­mine whether to con­tinue a preg­nancy, Roe has had far-reaching impli­ca­tions for women’s rights beyond the med­ical pro­ce­dure itself. The abil­ity to con­trol fam­ily plan­ning and their own bod­ies for the last two gen­er­a­tions has played an invalu­able role in help­ing women deter­mine the course of their own lives, decide when or whether to have chil­dren, earn higher degrees, advance in the work­place, and attain more equal rights.

Photo Credit Debra Sweet Flickr

Photo Credit: Debra Sweet, Flickr

Still, the jour­ney from Roe has not been an easy one. Four decades after Roe rec­og­nized the con­sti­tu­tional right to an abor­tion, there are more attempts to limit access—and ulti­mately ban—abortions than ever before. Between 2011 and 2015 there were nearly as many restric­tions on abor­tion access enacted across the United States than in the prior fif­teen years com­bined. In 2015 alone, law­mak­ers con­sid­ered 396 bills that would have restricted access to abor­tions in 46 states. Though many were defeated, 17 states enacted a total of 57 new abor­tion restric­tions. Many of the bills, though not explic­itly about reli­gion, have reli­gious under­tones, with leg­is­la­tors cit­ing scrip­ture dur­ing debate and seek­ing to enshrine their own par­tic­u­lar reli­gious view into law.

The lat­tice­work of state abor­tion restric­tions now includes coun­sel­ing require­ments that force doc­tors to give women often sci­en­tif­i­cally questionable—and some­times down­right inaccurate—information about the pro­ce­dures and their pos­si­ble side effects. Other laws impose wait­ing peri­ods that require women to come back to clin­ics days later, cre­at­ing par­tic­u­larly oner­ous obsta­cles for women who some­times have to travel hun­dreds of miles and lose hourly wages while away from work. Still oth­ers cre­ate restric­tions on insur­ance cov­er­age that make abor­tions almost impos­si­ble for poor peo­ple to access.

Other types of restric­tions, which cre­ate what doc­tors widely agree are med­ically unnec­es­sary require­ments for clin­ics, are also thinly veiled attempts to shut down repro­duc­tive health cen­ters. Such laws have become so wide­spread that they have their own term: tar­geted reg­u­la­tion of abor­tion providers (TRAP) laws. In Texas, for exam­ple, the law, among other things, requires clin­ics that pro­vide abor­tion ser­vices to meet the same build­ing, staffing and equip­ment require­ments as “ambu­la­tory sur­gi­cal cen­ters,” even though the pro­ce­dures there do not require such things by med­ical stan­dards. The law also requires doc­tors pro­vid­ing abor­tion ser­vices to have admit­ting priv­i­leges at a local hos­pi­tal, some­thing that is becom­ing increas­ingly dif­fi­cult to do in areas that largely oppose abor­tion rights or where there are only religiously-affiliated hos­pi­tals nearby. The law could shut­ter all but 10 abor­tion clin­ics, includ­ing every clinic west of San Anto­nio. Com­bined with Texas’ manda­tory wait­ing period between see­ing a doc­tor and hav­ing the pro­ce­dure, that would effec­tively put abor­tion access out of reach for mil­lions of women in Texas, who would often have to travel hun­dreds of miles to the near­est clinic and stay at least overnight.

A chal­lenge to that Texas law is now pend­ing before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, could have dra­matic impli­ca­tions for women’s abil­i­ties to access abor­tion all around the coun­try. The Supreme Court has said clearly and defin­i­tively in the past that states can­not place “undue bur­dens” on a woman’s abil­ity to access an abor­tion before fetal via­bil­ity, and that such bur­dens include “unnec­es­sary health reg­u­la­tions that have the pur­pose or effect of pre­sent­ing a sub­stan­tial obsta­cle to a woman seek­ing an abor­tion.” If the Court finds that the abil­ity to shut­ter clin­ics with tech­ni­cal and med­ically unnec­es­sary restric­tions does not qual­ify as an undue bur­den, how­ever, states around the coun­try could make abor­tions inac­ces­si­ble to all but the most priv­i­leged who can afford to take time off work, travel long dis­tances, and pay out of pocket for pro­ce­dures to which they have a con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed right.

On the anniver­sary of Roe v. Wade, the right to safe and legal abor­tions for many women hangs in the bal­ance. We must all work to safe­guard that fun­da­men­tal con­sti­tu­tional right so that all women— regard­less of where they live, what type of insur­ance they have, where they work, or how much money they have—can access the safe abor­tion ser­vices that have been so crit­i­cal in advanc­ing women’s rights and equality.

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January 15, 2016 0

Religious Freedom: Revolutionary and an American Strength

Jan­u­ary 16th is the 2016 obser­vance of National Reli­gious Free­dom Day, which was  estab­lished by Con­gress in 1993. It com­mem­o­rates the Vir­ginia Gen­eral Assembly’s 1786 adop­tion of the land­mark Vir­ginia Statute for Reli­gious Free­dom. Drafted by Thomas Jef­fer­son, it was the blue print for the reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions found in the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. Two-hundred thirty years later, how­ever, these very lib­er­ties and prin­ci­ples are being chal­lenged often in the name of“religious freedom.”

Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_(by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800)

The Statute for Reli­gious Free­dom was a rev­o­lu­tion­ary change in the rela­tion­ship between gov­ern­ment and reli­gion. It sep­a­rated the two by pro­hibit­ing taxes sup­port­ing reli­gion, pro­vid­ing free exer­cise of reli­gion for all, and gen­er­ally bar­ring reli­gious tests for civic par­tic­i­pa­tion. These prin­ci­ples became the law of the land with the adop­tion of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion and First Amendment.

The Constitution’s reli­gion clauses are the rea­son why a diver­sity of faiths has thrived in our nation for well-over 200 years. At their essence, the clauses pro­hibit gov­ern­ment from spon­sor­ing, sup­port­ing or sanc­tion­ing the impo­si­tion of reli­gious doc­trine or beliefs on cit­i­zens. They are a shield that safe­guards the reli­gious free­dom of all Amer­i­cans and our reli­gious institutions.

Address­ing these safe­guards in her last opin­ion, U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice San­dra Day O’Connor astutely observed:

[T]he goal of the Clauses is clear: to carry out the Founders’ plan of pre­serv­ing reli­gious lib­erty to the fullest extent pos­si­ble in a plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety. By enforc­ing the Clauses, we have kept reli­gion a mat­ter for the indi­vid­ual con­science, not for the pros­e­cu­tor or bureau­crat. At a time when we see around the world the vio­lent con­se­quences of the assump­tion of reli­gious author­ity by gov­ern­ment, Amer­i­cans may count them­selves for­tu­nate: … Those who would rene­go­ti­ate the bound­aries between church and state must there­fore answer a dif­fi­cult ques­tion: Why would we trade a sys­tem that has served us so well for one that has served oth­ers so poorly?

Despite Jus­tice O’Connor’s 2004 warn­ing, today we find our Constitution’s reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions and prin­ci­ples mis­un­der­stood and under chal­lenge. Most recently, lead­ing can­di­dates for the Pres­i­dency have said that Mus­lim Amer­i­cans are unfit to serve as Pres­i­dent and called for clos­ing down Mosques, as well as ban­ning Mus­lims from our shores. Such bla­tant reli­gious intol­er­ance is anti­thet­i­cal to our most core con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples and unac­cept­able from any per­son of good faith let alone an indi­vid­ual aspir­ing to the Pres­i­dency. Our nation’s wel­com­ing accep­tance of all reli­gious beliefs is a crit­i­cal tool in coun­ter­ing those groups and nations that seek to impose their faith on others.

In the States, dozens of bills have been filed over the last sev­eral years in the name of “reli­gious free­dom” that would allow busi­nesses — based on own­ers’ reli­gious beliefs — to refuse cus­tomers. Although many of these bills are directed at our nation’s LGBT com­mu­nity, they also could be used to turn away cus­tomers because for exam­ple they are Hindu, Human­ist, Jew­ish, Mor­mon or Mus­lim. Such leg­is­la­tion fun­da­men­tally mis­ap­pre­hends the pur­pose and scope of the Constitution’s reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions. They were never intended as a sword to impose reli­gious beliefs on oth­ers. The Con­sti­tu­tion most cer­tainly safe­guards the reli­gious beliefs and exer­cise of clergy, houses of wor­ship, and indi­vid­u­als, includ­ing beliefs and prac­tices about mar­riage. But for our plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety and mar­ket­place to prop­erly func­tion, they should not be used as a vehi­cle for discrimination.

The Con­sti­tu­tion also guar­an­tees the right of par­ents to send their chil­dren to reli­gious schools and reli­gious insti­tu­tions to per­form social and char­i­ta­ble ser­vices in-line with their reli­gious beliefs. But they in no way require the gov­ern­ment to fund either. Over the last 20 years, how­ever, Con­gress and state leg­is­la­tures have imple­mented pro­grams requir­ing tax­pay­ers to fund reli­gious schools and char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing those that dis­crim­i­nate or pros­e­ly­tize. Com­pelling tax­pay­ers to fund reli­gious insti­tu­tions with which they are not affil­i­ated or agree is anti­thet­i­cal to our con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples. Prop­erly inter­preted, the Con­sti­tu­tion should bar such gov­ern­ment fund­ing of religion.

Our reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions are one of America’s great­est strengths and a key rea­son why our Nation is excep­tional. On National Reli­gious Free­dom Day all Amer­i­cans should take a moment to appre­ci­ate their indi­vid­ual reli­gious lib­erty and reflect on the fact that mil­lions around the world are reg­u­larly sub­ject to reli­gious coer­cion or per­se­cu­tion. These free­doms must not be taken for granted. Amer­i­cans of good faith should push back on efforts to mis­use them in ways that impose par­tic­u­lar reli­gious beliefs or tests on their fel­low citizens.

 

 

 

 

 

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July 3, 2015 2

Yes, Justice Thomas, the Government Can Deprive People of Dignity

The word “dig­nity” appears 30 times in last week’s Supreme Court mar­riage equal­ity case, Oberge­fell v. Hodges. Describ­ing the same-sex cou­ples who aspired to marry, Jus­tice Anthony Kennedy, writ­ing for the 5–4 major­ity, stated:

Their hope is not to be con­demned to live in lone­li­ness, excluded from one of civilization’s old­est insti­tu­tions. They ask for equal dig­nity in the eyes of the law. The Con­sti­tu­tion grants them that right. supreme-court-civil-rights

 

 

 

In a bit­ter dis­sent, Jus­tice Clarence Thomas demurred, stat­ing that “the Con­sti­tu­tion con­tains no ‘dig­nity’ Clause.” He argued that the gov­ern­ment is “inca­pable of bestow­ing dig­nity,” stat­ing flatly that” human dig­nity can­not be taken away by the government.”

Aston­ish­ingly, Jus­tice Thomas then attempted to prove his dubi­ous propo­si­tion by cit­ing two extreme and rep­re­hen­si­ble gov­ern­ment actions that were actu­ally designed to deprive vic­tims of “equal dig­nity under the law” – slav­ery and the incar­cer­a­tion of Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent dur­ing World War II:

Slaves did not lose their dig­nity … because the gov­ern­ment allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in intern­ment camps did not lose their dig­nity because the gov­ern­ment con­fined them.

But the gov­ern­ment did not “allow” blacks to be enslaved – the laws of the time facil­i­tated and empow­ered slave own­ers and enforced slavery.

And the Japan­ese Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens League was rightly “appalled” by Jus­tice Thomas’ blind­ness to the impact of the government’s shame­ful and unwar­ranted forcible relo­ca­tion and incar­cer­a­tion of 120,000 Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent, the vast major­ity of whom were citizens.

In 1942, just 10 weeks after the sur­prise attack on Pearl Har­bor, Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt issued his Exe­cu­tion Order 9066, pro­vid­ing the legal author­ity for this depri­va­tion of lib­erty and dig­nity. Roosevelt’s exec­u­tive action was issued against the back­drop of wide­spread, base­less fears that Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese ances­try might pose a threat to the U.S – anx­i­ety that was cer­tainly fed by a long his­tory of prej­u­dice and xeno­pho­bia direct against Japan­ese Americans.

Those incar­cer­ated in the camps were uprooted from their com­mu­ni­ties, sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies, their homes, and their pos­ses­sions, and lost their per­sonal lib­er­ties and free­doms until the end of the war.

Trag­i­cally, the president’s exec­u­tive order was bol­stered by addi­tional con­gres­sional enact­ments. And when the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of these actions was chal­lenged in two main cases before the U.S. Supreme Court – Hirabayashi v. U.S. andKore­matsu v. United States – the Court held that these clearly dis­crim­i­na­tory actions by the gov­ern­ment were, in fact, jus­ti­fied and constitutional.

Now, 73 years later, the Anti-Defamation League uses the cruel and unwar­ranted wartime treat­ment of Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent as a teach­able moment for our nation on the dan­gers of stereo­typ­ing, prej­u­dice, and racial pro­fil­ing. While we can honor and admire indi­vid­u­als that can retain their per­sonal dig­nity under the most adverse con­di­tions, there should be no doubt, Jus­tice Thomas, that the gov­ern­ment can deprive peo­ple of their “equal dignity.”

For­tu­nately, a Supreme Court major­ity has now held that the Con­sti­tu­tion man­dates that same-sex cou­ples are enti­tled to equal treat­ment – and mar­riage equality.

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