Democrats for Life of America
Washington, DC – Democrats For Life of America (DFLA) has filed amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in two federal court cases in support of the conscience clause of individuals and organizations who oppose parts of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that requires individuals to facilitate abortions through their employees’ health insurance coverage. DFLA argued that private entities, including for-profit businesses, should not be required to cover drugs when there is reason to believe these drugs may cause abortions of new embryos. Specifically, DFLA cites emergency contraceptives such as Plan B (the “morning after” pill) and Ella (the “seven-day after” pill) that cause the abortion of new embryos.
The legal briefs were filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals Tenth and Third Circuit, in Newland v Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, respectively. DFLA argued that the HHS mandate to cover these drugs violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) and the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The HHS mandate is also inconsistent with conscience protections in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) itself. An additional signatory of the briefs is former Congressman Bart Stupak, who led the effort to include pro-life provisions in the ACA and who negotiated an Executive Order by President Obama re-affirming that the ACA would continue to protect conscience rights of all Americans and prevent the use of tax dollars to pay for abortions.
“Our nation has a longstanding and pervasive tradition of accommodating conscientious objections to facilitating abortion,” said Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats For Life of America. “DFLA was proud to support the ACA after we were assured that conscience rights under the ACA were protected. The Executive Order specifically spells out that fact. The administration should hold to its commitment.”
The Executive Order negotiated by Congressman Stupak reaffirmed and emphasized that, with respect to abortion, the “longstanding Federal laws to protect conscience (such as the Church Amendment and the Weldon Amendment)” will remain intact under the ACA.
DFLA’s arguments in the amicus brief are focused on the medicines that may cause abortions. Both Stupak and Democrats For Life supported the overall health-care law as an advance for the health security of Americans, including women. Democrats For Life does not oppose the part of the HHS mandate that requires for-profit businesses to cover contraception methods that present no risk of abortion.
“Both federal and state laws have repeatedly made broad accommodation for conscientious objections to abortion,” said Tom Berg, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) and a Democrats For Life board member, who helped write and file the briefs. “The right to refuse to facilitate abortions has protected businesses as well as individuals, and it has protected against many forms of facilitation beyond participating in the abortion directly. It should cover this case, too.”
The government has argued that FDA-approved emergency contraceptives like Plan B and Ella do not cause abortions because they only prevent fertilization or the implantation of an embryo in the uterus. However, the briefs note and the plaintiffs believe “that a distinct human life begins at fertilization”; therefore, preventing implantation is an abortion. The briefs add, “It is no salve to their conscience to be told that the government defines abortion differently.” Even applying the government’s standard, the briefs note, there is evidence that Ella could cause termination of already-implanted embryos.