Statute Protecting Pro-Life Medical Professionals Survives Court Challenge

A US federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a pro-abortion group challenging an amendment that protects pro-life medical professionals from discrimination.

The Weldon Amendment, which was signed into law in December 2005, is a federal statute that bars the federal government or state and local government entities receiving certain federal aid from discriminating against doctors and other medical professionals who refuse to perform abortions or who refuse to refer patients for abortions. The amendment faced a legal hurdle just days after it was enacted — a court challenge brought by the pro-abortion National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA).

When a federal district court upheld the law, the NFPRHA appealed the ruling, arguing that the Weldon Amendment was too vague to be enforced. The group also asserted that its member organizations had a constitutional right to have medical professionals provide abortion referrals.

The Christian Medical Association and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists intervened in the case to defend the Weldon Amendment on behalf of members of the two pro-life and pro-family medical associations. The groups were represented by the Alliance Defense Fund and the Christian Legal Society's Center for Law and Religious Freedom.

The Christian Legal Society's Casey Mattox, who serves as litigation counsel for the Center, is pleased with the federal appeals court's ruling. "Doctors and nurses should not be forced to participate in abortions against their religious beliefs or conscience," the attorney contends. Yet that is what the NFPRHA, "under the banner of 'choice, … asserted a supposed right to do," he says.

Fortunately, Mattox notes, "the court didn't buy it." Instead, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the NFPRHA lacked standing to challenge the Weldon Amendment. According to Mattox, the appellate court's decision to uphold the dismissal of the pro-abortion group's legal action "turns back the effort to enshrine abortion as a right even above the First Amendment."

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