Next week Congress will vote on the federal Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act of 2017.
This is a federal bill similar to a pro-life law the Arkansas Legislature passed in 2013. It prohibits abortion after the twentieth week of pregnancy, except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.
All four of Arkansas’ congressmen are co-sponsoring this good, federal bill.
Medical science shows unborn babies feel the pain of abortion — especially after the twentieth week of pregnancy. In 2000, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy described the abortion process, writing, “The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn from limb from limb. . . . The fetus can be alive at the beginning of the dismemberment process and can survive for a time while its limbs are being torn off.”
Abortion is a horrific procedure. That’s one reason many states — including Arkansas — have passed laws prohibiting abortion after the twentieth week of pregnancy.
In 2015 the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 137, the Intrastate Commerce Act. This good law prevents local municipalities from creating protected classes not found in state law.
It ensures Arkansas does not wind up with a patchwork of conflicting civil rights ordinances and policies in different cities and counties. It also helps ensure local municipalities do not adopt ordinances that undermine religious liberties.
In the fall of 2015 the City of Fayetteville adopted an ordinance creating protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge wrote that the ordinance was unenforceable under Act 137. Last February the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed and overturned the ordinance, saying it violates state law.
The discussion should have ended there, but now attorneys from the City of Fayetteville and the State of Arkansas are back in court, arguing over whether or not Act 137 is constitutional. Fayetteville’s attorneys say the law is not constitutional. The state’s attorneys say it is.
The judge overseeing the case has even gone so far as to suggest that lawmakers who sponsored Act 137 should be questioned to determine their reasoning for the legislation.
Legislative intent is important, but it has nothing to do with whether or not Act 137 is constitutional. Laws about discrimination are best left to the state and federal governments. Act 137 simply ensures the state will make those policies rather than local municipalities.
Photo Credit: “Old Main from the northwest, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas (autumn)” by Brandonrush – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.
Earlier this month the federal Department of Justice filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting a baker in Colorado in an important religious liberty case.
Jack Phillips is a baker and cake designer. He is also a Christian. In 2012 he was asked to design a custom cake for a same-sex ceremony. Phillips declined and was promptly sued for discrimination under the state’s public accommodation law.
It’s important to note that Mr. Phillips sells cakes and baked goods to people regardless of their sexual-orientation. However, he does not prepare cakes for every occasion, based on his Christian beliefs. For example, according to documents filed with the court, Mr. Phillips does not operate his business on Sundays; does not sell products containing alcohol; and does not provide goods related to Halloween.
His case has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and earlier this month the federal Department of Justice filed an amicus brief in the case supporting Mr. Phillips.
Attorneys at the DOJ write, “Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights . . . . Colorado has not offered, and could not reasonably offer, a sufficient justification for that compulsion here.”
Mr. Phillips’s case highlights a growing threat to religious liberty: State and local “nondiscrimination” policies. While these laws are often touted as ways to protect people from discrimination, they can run roughshod over religious liberty and force people to say or do things that violate their deeply-held religious beliefs.
Fortunately the federal government is standing with Mr. Phillips, but ultimately this case rests in the hands of the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.