While the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has allowed Texas’ Abortion Bounty law to go into effect — effectively banning abortion in that state — they will soon have a chance to overturn Roe v. Wade nationwide. They announced yesterday that they will hear, on December 1, a case regarding abortion law in Mississippi called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. SCOTUS watchers fear the Trump appointees on the Court will use the opportunity to ban legal abortion across the country.
That also means a number of pro-choice lawmakers and advocacy groups are filing their own amicus briefs urging the Court not to do… the thing it’s totally going to do.
One of those briefs came from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Center for Inquiry, and American Atheists. It argues that “religion has always been at the heart of anti-abortion ideology” and Mississippi’s anti-abortion law is no different.
… The [Mississippi] legislation itself uses language that adopts a particular religious viewpoint on when personhood begins. For instance, the Act’s legislative findings refer to an embryo and fetus as an “unborn human being,” such as, “Between five (5) and six (6) weeks’ gestation, an unborn human being’s heart begins beating… An unborn human being begins to move about in the womb at approximately eight (8) weeks’ gestation… An unborn human being’s vital organs begin to function at ten (10) weeks’ gestation.” The Act goes on to define “human being” as “an individual member of the species Homo sapiens, from and after the point of conception.” The adoption of this definition by the Mississippi legislature evinces a religious value judgment undergirding the law.
The government has no business requiring citizens to comply with the religious beliefs of those who are in power. The framers of the Constitution adopted a godless and entirely secular Constitution, in which the only references to religion are exclusionary. The framers abhorred and repudiated the idea of a theocracy, or a government in which religion would dominate government action. As a personal matter of conscience, the state may not compel obedience with a religious belief on when “personhood” begins. It may be a strongly held religious belief for the minority of Americans who oppose legal abortion, but it is not an appropriate legislative purpose or interest.
The American Humanist Association, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Interfaith Alliance filed a separate brief (along with a Jewish group) that focuses on the importance of religious pluralism.
Essentially, they say that the question of when human life begins “raises deep, inherently religious questions that implicate freedom of conscience” and that settling on an answer based on certain people’s faith would be unconstitutional.
Abandoning the viability standard would place these most serious theological conflicts back wholly in the political arena. It would thus threaten far greater religious strife, turmoil, and rancor than already exists, by creating stronger incentives for religious groups to seek to impose their own beliefs through legislation so as to prevent others’ beliefs from being forced on them. And it would dangerously increase the already substantial mistrust of our political institutions, by miring them yet more deeply in theological matters that they are not institutionally competent to resolve.
These groups are all ultimately saying that overturning Roe using this Mississippi case would be an imposition of religion on the nation. There are many reasons to uphold Roe — including legal precedent and the fact that Mississippi’s argument is insane — but defending church/state separation is yet another important angle to consider. Indeed, when the justices write their opinions, they frequently quote from these submitted briefs when making their arguments.
You can see a comprehensive list of what other like-minded groups are saying here.
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