Law and Secularism – The Week in Review

Reproductive Rights News

In a refreshing change from the abortion restrictions imposed elsewhere in the country, the Hawaiian Senate wants to do something different. Hawaii’s senate has just passed SB 526, which mandates that hospitals provide unbiased information and access to emergency contraceptives. Republican lawmakers decried the measure, claiming that it violated the hospital’s right to free exercise of religion.  Passage of the bill will ensure that rape victims get the care they need and deserve, instead of being sentenced to nine months of emotional agony and a physically compromised body, as well as the with an unwanted child whose existence will remind its mother every day of the circumstances of its conception. The bill recognizes that “[t]he average rate of pregnancy resulting from rape is between five and eight per cent with an estimated thirty-two thousand rape-related pregnancies occurring each year in the United States.  However, the Department of Justice national crime victimization surveys indicate that over half of all rapes are not reported to the police.”

The South Dakota bill extending the waiting period for abortions was signed into law Friday, while New Hampshire decided against similar legislation. It matters whether the Tea Party or thinking people are in charge of a legislature.

The Atlantic reports that Arkansas’ 12-week abortion ban isn’t all that restrictive when we consider that some European countries have similar provisions. France, for example, bans abortions after the 14th week except for medical reasons. The new Arkansas law does not make the exceptions for fetal deformities that the French law does, which is its biggest fault. That, and it’s blatantly unconstitutional.

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women is currently in its second and final week, and abortion is a hot topic. Anti-abortion advocates are decrying the 68,000 annual maternal deaths caused by unsafe abortions, mostly  in underdeveloped countries. Pro-choice advocates decry those numbers too: no woman should have to die because she doesn’t want a child. Women die when they cannot terminate unwanted pregnancies safely, and underdeveloped nations tend not to have a lot of safe facilities for abortion procedures. Lowering the number of abortions is related directly to making birth control and family planning education available to women. A report released by the commission Saturday found that countries that do not make abortion legal and safe unnecessarily risk the lives of women and essentially subject women who want abortions to torture and bondage. Women in Northern Ireland, the only province of Great Britain not to permit abortion, agree, and took to the streets to say so Saturday for International Women’s Day.

Want to know where your state stands in the great scheme of things, abortion-wise? The Guttmacher Institute has compiled a chart comparing all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Kansas wants to make sure that dirty whore organizations like Planned Parenthood don’t get their hooks into impressionable young kids. A House committee has approved sweeping anti-abortion legislation that would prohibit public schools using sex-education instruction from Planned Parenthood. It would also  block tax breaks for abortion providers and patients. (Those are a thing? I had no idea.) Parents worry about their children being educated by groups like Planned Parenthood “so that they can learn where the local abortion clinic is,” said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life. “It’s like if you let the driver’s ed come from the local Buick dealer down the street.” Sure. We see the parallel.



Same-Sex Marriage News

 In the U.S. Supreme Court

One of the most important people of all has asked the Supreme Court to permit same-sex marriage, but she didn’t file a brief. An 11-year old girl  from Wilson, North Carolina, who has two moms wrote all nine U.S. Supreme Court justices asking them to keep her family in mind as they make their decision on the DOMA and Prop 8 cases later this spring.

Court watchers are concerned about Justice Kennedy, who remarked publicly that his court may be accepting too many hot-button issues. He’s apparently of the opinion that nine unelected people with narrow legal backgrounds should not be in the business of deciding public policy for an entire nation. If Kennedy is reluctant to make a broad decisions in the Prop 8 case, same-sex marriage could end up as legal in California but not elsewhere in the country.

Around the Nation

Allies come from all directions. Large companies are throwing in behind the push to permit same-sex marriage. “It’s a business decision,” says Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Issues like benefits, moving employees to different offices, visas that will permit families to stay together, and medical leave laws all are tied to marriage, and all affect employees.

With even the president who signed it into law saying that it is discriminatory, it looks as though DOMA’s days may be numbered. Hillary Clinton has apparently said that she favors repealing its discriminatory language – an important item to note, since she’s favored as a presidential candidate in 2016. The polls indicate that nationwide trends favor allowing same-sex unions. Those opposed to it tend to be older, evangelical Christian, and white. Poll results released Friday by Quinnipiac University indicated that over half the Catholics favored same sex marriage – that’s a slightly greater margin than the American public at large, according to figures collected in November 2012 by a bipartisan team and released last week by Freedom to Marry. This is apparently yet another area in which the Catholic authorities are not in step with their faithful.

A Michigan federal judge has delayed his decision in an same-sex adoption case until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the Prop 8 and DOMA cases. Michigan law currently forbids joint custody of children by unmarried people. A lesbian couple with three children has brought suit in federal court to have the same-sex marriage ban in Michigan declared unconstitutional, and to allow them both to have custodial rights to the children who call them “Mom.” The couple say that they would marry if the law permitted them to.

 And Elsewhere

Married people live longer, according to researchers. This and other health benefits related to marriage hold true for same-sex married couples just as it does for opposite sex couples, according to the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen and the Center for Sexology Research of Aalborg University.



Religious Freedoms

In November, Puerto Rico voted in a non-binding referendum to become the 51st state. As a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico is already subject to the rules of the Constitution. However, the overwhelmingly (85%) Catholic territory may not be comfortable with the notion of separation of church and state just yet. An atheist police official filed a discrimination suit last week because his department heads insisted on praying and the officer refused to pray. His refusal led to a series of events that singled him out for demotions, punishment, harassment, and ridicule because of his lack of faith. The ACLU branches in both Puerto Rico and DC are assisting the officer.

Hamilton County, Tennessee’s County Commission has invocations by ministers prior to its official meetings. When Thomas Coleman asked to deliver an atheist invocation, he was told he had to have tax-exempt status as a religious institution in order to qualify to give the invocation. Not surprisingly, the county has been sued. What is surprising is that a federal judge refused to grant the injunction against the prayers, even when Coleman demonstrated the selective nature of who got to deliver the invocations. The case is now pending before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Kansas City Atheist Coalition has been denied permission to march in their city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade – a celebration of the large Irish heritage of the area – because their “published mission is to advance godlessness through activism.” Presumably, this year those of Jewish, Protestant, Buddhist, black and Asian persuasions will also not be permitted to participate, since they aren’t bona fide, either. Lily-white leprechauns only for this event, despite the claim on the parade’s Facebook page that the purpose of the parade is to “foster a greater awareness of the metropolitan area’s rich Irish heritage, and supports many local humanitarian, social and cultural endeavors.” Dirty atheists need not apply.



Got a legal question? Email me at I’m a lawyer, but there’s only a 2% chance I’m licensed in your state. Whether I answer your question or not, sending me an email or reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. I’m on Twitter as @aramink, and you can see my regular blog at, where I write book reviews, ruminate on Life, the Universe, and Everything, and occasionally – frequently – rant about Stuff.

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