5th Oct, 2013

Democrats for Life: A Unique Voice in Pro-Life Legal Cases

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) is filing briefs in important legal proceedings involving the protection of pro-life principles.  As a DFLA board member and lawyer/scholar involved with those briefs, let me tell you what we’re accomplishing with these filings.

Most recently, we submitted a “friend of the court” brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of pro-life sidewalk counselors who are challenging a Massachusetts law that requires them to remain 35 feet away from the entrance to an abortion clinic or its driveway.  For a number of years, the counselors have engaged women coming to the clinic in quite, civil conversations and provided them information about alternatives to abortion, including financial support and housing for mothers and children as well as adoption alternatives.  The “buffer zone” law, DFLA argues, has severely restricted not only the counselors’ right to speak in these conversations, but the right of willing women to receive such information.  Our brief shows, based on established studies, that a significant number of women decide for abortion with reluctance and are open to considering alternatives even as they go the clinic; but the buffer zone inhibits such personal conversation, forcing the counselors to shout quickly from a distance: that is, as we put it, casting them in “the stereotyped mold . . . of a shouting protestor.”  Read about and download the brief here.

In addition, we’ve submitted “friend of the court” briefs in several cases involving the federal mandate on employers to cover contraception, because the Obama administration defines that to include so-called emergency contraceptives such as the “morning-after” pill (Plan B) and the “5-day after” pill (Ella).  Many pro-life Americans object to those medications because, according to the FDA’s own labeling statements, they may act to prevent a fertilized embryo from implanting in the uterus, thus ending a life after conception.  In supporting business owners’ legal challenges, we argue that our nation has a tradition of giving broad protections to the conscience of those who object to supporting abortion—including provisions in the Affordable Care Act itself that protect employers and health-insurance plans from having to cover abortion.  Pro-life Democrats in Congress, led by then-Representative Bart Stupak, were instrumental in ensuring that the Affordable Care Act included such protections against abortion support.  DFLA and Bart Stupak are submitting the current briefs together to ensure that those conscience protections remain effective.  Our filings take no position on the required coverage of ordinary contraception, given DFLA members’ differing views on that issue; we focus on the medications that may cause abortions.  Although there is debate over whether these medications (especially Plan B) operate after conception, we argue that the plaintiffs should be protected as abortion objectors because their fear that the medications can cause abortions is reasonable.  Read about and download these briefs here.

We submit filings in these cases, and will in future cases, because they go right the heart of DFLA’s distinctive and vital perspective: that protecting life must include assisting pregnant women who are in difficult circumstances that effectively pressure many into deciding for abortion.  We’ve led the way in developing such assistance in the Pregnant Women Support Act (enacted in the health-care law) and in ensuring that health-insurance coverage would expand without promoting abortion.  Supplementing our emphases on educating the public and supporting pro-life Democratic officials and candidates, submitting these briefs—with the help of volunteer lawyers knowledgeable in the legal subjects—makes DFLA a crucial voice ensuring that the law protects whole-life principles and the conscience of pro-life Americans.

Tom Berg
DFLA Board Member
James Oberstar Professor of Law and Public Policy, University of St. Thomas (Minnesota)

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