Law and Secularism – the Week in Review 3/7/13

Law and Secularism – the Week in Review 3/7/13 March 7, 2013

Reproductive Rights News

Arkansas has passed the most restrictive abortion laws in the entire country. Both bills were vetoed by the governor, who said they were unconstitutional,  but the state legislature overrode both vetoes in quick measure. I ranted about this on my own blog earlier this week, and all the depressing details are there. Basically, no abortions are now permitted in Arkansas past the 20th week after fertilization except to save the life or health of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest. Mental health does not count as health for purposes of the statute. There is no exception for severe fetal anomalies. Physicians performing abortions after this date become felons.

The second, more restrictive bill prohibits abortions at the 12th week after fertilization, and redefined “viability” as human tissue with a heartbeat. The redefinition of viability is an attempt to get around Supreme Court decisions that say viability is the point at which the fetus, if delivered, can survive outside the womb. One presumes that when human embryonic tissue initially has a heartbeat at 21 days after fertilization, it cannot survive an extrauterine environment. The embryo at that point is about the size of the head of a pin.

Not surprisingly, Texas Governor Rick Perry supports a 20-week abortion ban for his state, too. It’s all over the internet that Texas, which in 2011 cut funding to family planning agencies within its borders by $70 million in an effort to eradicate abortion, has had a wake-up call. Apparently projections that the additional births that will result from the budget cuts will cost the state an additional $273 million. With the support of religious leaders from all over the state, Texas may undo the damage by allocating $100 million to the programs it previously defunded. A poll shows that a majority of Texans support state funding of family planning programs.  About 70 percent of high school seniors in Texas are sexually active and the state has the fourth highest teenage pregnancy rate in the nation.

Rapert and Perry might be interested to know that U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill struck down Idaho’s 20-week ban on abortions yesterday. Like the one in Arkansas, the Idaho law was based on the fetus’s ability to feel pain. According to the judge, there was “compelling evidence of the legislature’s `improper purpose’ in enacting” a firm 20-week ban. He wrote, “The state may not rely on its interest in the potential life of the fetus to place a substantial obstacle to abortion before viability in women’s paths.” A nonviable’s fetus’s rights do not trump the rights of a woman to choose when or how often to have children.

The plaintiff in the Idaho case had been charged with the crime of illegally aborting her five-to-six-month old fetus. She had obtained abortion-inducing drugs online. According to her lawsuit, the plaintiff was unmarried and unemployed at the time of her pregnancy, had an income of only $200 to $250 a month, and already had three children. She couldn’t afford the time or money it would take to travel to Salt Lake City to get an abortion. Her criminal case was dismissed.

Judge Winmill also declared two other Idaho laws restricting abortion to be unconstitutional. One of those laws prohibited first trimester abortions unless they were done in a clinical setting. That law effectively outlawed the use of chemical abortifacients like RU-486. A second law criminalized women who had later-term abortions. “Historically, abortion statutes sought to protect pregnant females from third parties providing dangerous abortions. As a result, most states’ abortion laws traditionally criminalized the behavior of third parties to protect the health of pregnant women — they did not punish women for obtaining an abortion.”

Immediately upon getting the legislature to override the veto on Arkansas’s 12-week abortion limit yesterday, Republican Jason Rapert immediately filed a bill to defund any organization that performs abortions. This bill is directly aimed at Planned Parenthood, which is the only entity in the state that receives government money and provides abortion services. Perhaps Rick Perry ought to let Mr. Rapert know what happens when family planning agencies lose their funding.

North Carolina wants to give false and misleading information to elementary and middle school students, but this time it’s not about creation science. SB 132 has been submitted to the Committee on Healthcare. It would mandate teaching children that abortion causes preterm births in later pregnancies. NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina has released a statement saying this the bill is nothing more than anti-choice pseudoscience.

Indiana wants to make sure that women feel violated when they need RU-486, but recently backed off requiring a second – yes, second – medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound before the prescription could be written. The female director of Indiana Right to Life says transvaginal ultrasounds aren’t intrusive, because, after all, women get pregnant transvaginally. If we like having penises in our vaginas, we’ll like the pointless ultrasound, too.

South Dakota is in the process of instituting the longest waiting period for abortions in the country – up to six days, depending on holidays and weekends. The bill has passed the Senate. Anyone wanting an abortion in South Dakota also has to submit to counseling with pro-life advocates, as if the decision isn’t difficult enough already, while they wait to get an appointment at the single non-emergency abortion clinic in the state.

Legislators all over this country are trying to pass laws to make people more moral in their eyes. One legislator in Iowa, upset that his daughter and son-in-law have divorced, wants to make no-fault divorce unavailable to people with minor children because of his fear that his 16-year-old granddaughter is now going to become a slut due to her parents’ divorce. Because 16 year old daughters of married people are never sexually active, right? Then there’s the Utah Republican (why is it always Republicans doing these idiotic things?) who says that as long as abortion is legal, cockfighting should be, too. We’re just going to ignore the wealth of possibilities for jokes involving abortion and fighting cocks.


Same-Sex Marriage News

 In the U.S. Supreme Court

The Obama administration has formally weighed in on the question of DOMA and Prop 8. By filing an amicus brief in the Prop 8 case last week, the President has made good on the sentiments expressed in his inaugural address in January.  Not only does the president think it’s time to recognize same-sex marriage, he believes the policy of the United States ought to reflect that. The administration is a party to the DOMA case, so has already filed a regular brief in it.

In a striking show of political rationalism, over 130 prominent Republican leaders, both elected and otherwise, have broken with their party’s platform and signed an amicus brief supporting legalization of same sex marriage in the Proposition 8 case pending before the US Supreme Court. Among other things, the brief argues that same-sex marriage promotes family values (something Republicans have often claimed to have a monopoly on)  by allowing children of same-sex couples to have two legal parents at home. In an echo of what used to be a Republican ideal, the brief  argues that by not interfering in people’s choices about their family make-up, permitting same-sex marriage “advances conservative values of ‘limited government and maximizing individual freedom.’”

Several high-ranking advisers of the Bush II administration have signed the brief, even in the wake of former first lady Laura Bush’s request to remove her name and remarks from the Respect for Marriage Coalition’s ad supporting same-sex marriage. Clint Eastwood signed it. Let’s hope he’s not just talking to another chair.

Jon Huntsman, former Republican presidential candidate and Mormon, was one of the signatories, too. Last week Huntsman wrote an Op-Ed piece supporting same-sex marriage. He voiced what so many of our elected leaders – regardless of party – tend to forget: that government should “work for everybody, even those [without] access to a powerful lobby.”

The Anti-Defamation League, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the People for the American Way’s African-American Ministers’ Leadership Council, a long list of Jewish organizations, and others have weighed in on both cases by filing joint briefs in favor of same sex marriage, and decrying a religious basis for definition of marriage. AU provided links to the Prop 8 brief and their DOMA brief. Briefs are being posted slowly, but eventually should be all be publicly available on the U.S. Supreme Court website.

Around the Nation

The fight against DOMA continues in courtrooms around the country. Unless and until the law is declared unconstitutional, it still impacts the daily lives of ordinary people. The Southern Poverty Law Center is providing legal representation to a disabled California veteran whose same-sex spouse is prevented by DOMA from getting benefits from the Veterans’ Administration. Among those benefits is the right to be buried together in a national cemetery and to receive payments based on the veteran’s disability.  SPLC has asked a federal court in Los Angeles to declare the pertinent sections of DOMA unconstitutional. Last week SPLC filed an amicus brief in the Prop 8 case pending before the Supreme Court.

Exit polls and other surveys done during the November 2012 elections by a bipartisan team commissioned by Freedom to Marry indicate something we already knew: opposition to same-sex marriage is drying up. Its primary opponents are older people, white evangelical Christians and non-college-educated whites. The full results of this survey should be released later today.


Creation Science News

John Freshwater, an Ohio high school science teacher, argued his case before the Ohio Supreme Court last week. Freshwater was fired for touting his religious beliefs in class. Students claimed that, among other things, Freshwater distributed pamphlets called “Survival of the Fakest” and “Answers in Genesis” in an effort to get them to question science.  The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group in Charlottesville, VA, is aiding his legal defense, claiming that Freshwater’s religious and academic liberties are at stake. The National Center for Science Education, the American Humanist Association, and the Secular Student Alliance are aiding the school board’s legal team. Freshwater settled a case brought against him by a student who claimed the teacher branded a cross into his skin using a Tesla coil.

Zack Kopplin was on Bill Moyers this week talking about his fight against creation science in Louisiana schools, and how he has expanded his message to the rest of the country since he’s gone to college. Susan Jacoby was also on the show talking about her new biography of Robert Ingersoll. Watch the whole hour on

Religious Freedoms

The Center for Inquiry has settled a lawsuit against the Wyndgate Country Club of Rochester Hills, Michigan for an undisclosed amount of money. The country club cancelled a dinner CFI was to have held there at which Richard Dawkins was to speak.  Wyndgate staff must submit to sensitivity training to educate themselves regarding the rights of atheists and other undesirables in public spaces. Although the country club is private, the space in question was available to the public.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation plans to appeal a decision by a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that sided with a city that prohibited FFRF from erecting a holiday display with an anti-religious message. The federal courts of appeals hear cases in panels, which may then be reviewed by the full court.

Arief Hidayat, a judicial candidate in Indonesia has said that religious freedom only extends to those with supernatural beliefs in his country.

“Indonesia is a religious nation; so, religious freedom in this country must uphold theistic principles. The discussion about religious freedom here, therefore, is not about whether Indonesians may be atheists. All Indonesians should be believers.”

He also said that same-sex marriage was out of the question in Indonesia. He did not offer advice on how to believe something one simply doesn’t believe.

Human Rights Watch has said that violence against religious minorities in Indonesia is on the rise.


Papal Drama

SNAP (Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests) has blacklisted a dozen cardinals in the race for Pope because of the way they handled sex abuse scandals in their jurisdictions. Only a dozen? The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life says that Americans consider the sex abuse scandals and pedophilia the biggest problems the Catholic church faces.




FFRF, as usual, is agitating to keep church and state separated. This time, it’s in South Carolina, and they have put out an Action Alert.  At its Feb. 25, 2013 meeting, the Pickens County school board voted to begin meetings with nonsectarian prayers. This vote was preliminary. The final vote will take place at the board’s meeting on March 25. Even prayers that claim to be nonsectarian violate the establishment clause. If you want to help, contact the Pickens County School Board.



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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