November 20, 2013

Abortion and the status quo

by Jesse Johnson

Yesterday the US Supreme Court declined to take up an emergency appeal from Planned Parenthood concerning a new Texas law that will have the effect of closing some of the state’s abortion clinics. The decision itself was expected, but the way in which it was delivered shows a shift in the fight to end legalized abortion.


Back in June, the Texas state legislature passed new restrictions on abortion clinics. The major change was a mandate that doctors that do abortions in a clinic must have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital in order to perform abortions. Admitting privileges are difficult to get, as hospitals have certain requirements for doctors. Many hospitals require doctors to have a certain number of patients at the hospital over the course of the year in order to ensure that the doctors are familiar with the procedures in place, as well as a means of fostering competition between hospitals for the best doctors. Hospitals are unlikely to grant those privileges to a doctor that seldom sends patients there—which is the very reason doctors in many specialties are part of  practices that can leverage their number of patients to gain hospital access.

But then again, abortion is not like other specialties.  

The new restrictions were passed largely as a result of the Gosnell case in Philadelphia; if you have forgotten, Gosnell is a serial murderer who used an abortion clinic as a cover for his crimes. One woman, Karnamaya Mongar, died when she was given a lethal overdose of Demerol by the teen-aged anesthesiologist.  Gosnell’s staff called 911, but it took the paramedics 20 minutes to get the victim out of the clinic because of how run down it was, and because of how many containers of “fetal remains” were strewn everywhere.  When Mongar finally did get to the hospital, there were no medical files for her, and Gosnell refused to tell the doctors what had happened to her. Without knowing she was overdosing on Demerol, they could do nothing to save her life, and Gosnell was convicted of murder.

That is the kind of thing that wouldn’t have occurred if a doctor had the ability to admit to a hospital. If the state regulators refuse to regulate abortion doctors, which was the case in Pennsylvania, then a new mandate that doctors have admitting privileges in order to perform abortion pushes that oversight to the hospitals, where at least it will occur. At least that is the idea behind the new Texas law.

The law itself was almost immediately blocked by a federal judge, who pointed out that it would shut down 1/3 of Texas’ abortion clinics. He also noted that because many women would have to travel 100-150 miles to get an abortion that it posed an unconstitutional burden on those women (as if the Constitution guaranteed not only the right to abortion, but the right to have one available in less than a 2 hour drive).

The Federal Appeals Court in New Orleans disagreed, lifting the injunction, and allowing Planned Parenthood’s case to be decided at trail. If there was any doubt about what Planned Parenthood’s real function is (motto: “bringing the back alley to you”), they lodged an emergency appeal with the US Supreme Court.

Emergency appeals from Texas are given to Justice Scalia, who could have denied it by himself. Instead, he took the relatively  unusual step of passing it along to the rest of the court. Five of the nine justices declined to overturn the New Orleans court—the effect being that the restrictions will go into law pending the outcome of Planned Parenthood’s challenge—expected in January.

That the appeal was denied is not unusual—the unusual feature of the ruling was that seven of the nine justices released reasoning behind their votes (which is very unusual when the court simply decides not to hear a case). Three of them explained that the principle of letting a state’s law stand unless it is “probably” unconstitutional is enough to keep the court from intervening at this time.

But the four justices who wanted to reverse the New Orleans court (and thus halt the Texas restrictions from being enacted) also released their reasoning. In one of the most blindly macabre phrases I’ve ever read, Justice Breyer wrote that “maintaining the status quo” of abortion in Texas is the legal threshold the judges should consider.

Imagine: in this reasoning the continued slaughter of babies must be allowed, and attempts to regulate those that do it should be prohibited, because otherwise the status quo could be tinkered with. That says a lot about what counts as the status quo in our culture of death.

The truth is, the pro-abortion position is running out of plausible defenses. As Planned Parenthood’s response to the Texas law shows, they are not in this for women’s health. After all, the if the whole point of legalized abortion is ostensibly to “protect women’s health,” then certainly a connection to a hospital is a step in the right direction.

It is worth remembering that Roe vs. Wade was written in a world where there were no effective ultrasound machines, and there was genuine confusion about when exactly a fetus was alive. With that confusion a thing of the past, the next front in the abortion war is seen with these kind of restrictions. After all, if the Gosnell case was really that bad, then even those in favor of keeping abortion legal should want to do what ever they can to upend the status quo.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • 072591

    This may be harsh, but when the mother dies at the hands of the person she hired to murder her helpless child, I feel that justice was served.

    • SomeonethatIusedtoknow

      Cold but true

    • I get your point, but let’s make sure we never say that it is ok to murder someone…which is what Gosnell did. Like most/all serial killers, he manipulated his victims in profound ways. Check out pt 1 of the documentary on this at

    • Albert

      To insist that justice is served if the mother dies at the hand of her hired killer is, to me, mistaken.

      In this scenario, two lives are lost, not just one. If our whole understanding of ending abortion is to save lives, this goes against the whole idea of what we are fighting for.

      It seems, by your comment, that you would take the position that if we are able to make abortions illegal, any women that has a “back-ally” abortion would then be sentenced to death, is that correct?

  • julie

    Before ultrasound machines, we knew quite a bit, Jesse. We knew a mother was carrying a baby for we never said I’m going to have a fetus. We said, I am going to have a baby (or am pregnant). A pregnant mother always believes her child is alive, for one thing, the strain on her system is obvious; she knows it is taking in nourishment and it is growing. Now, what takes in nourishment and grows that isn’t alive? Unless she has reason to, a pregnant mother never thinks of her unborn child as “not alive”. Otherwise, why grieve an early miscarriage, as mothers do? At approximately 4 months a mother can feel her baby moving. To think that it just “came alive” somehow right at that moment is straining credulity. Not only that but even before ultrasound machines there were miscarriages and autopsies and it would have been clear to a doctor or anyone with medical sense that an unborn baby had a brain and a heart which was beating well before the 4 months of felt movement.
    No it wasn’t ultrasounds that brought us the truth. The truth was there well before, but the world lies. The world’s deeds are evil and so it lies to cover them up. The world is willfully blind to truth. It does not want the truth. The “genuine confusion” that you speak of comes when the truth is rejected. Because then you have one saying one thing and one another. No one wants to admit the truth so they become willfully blind to it. Men and women want their sin, their adultery and their fornication. But they do not want the consequences, the obvious consequence of their sin. And so to cover it up, they kill their child.

    • Ray Adams

      Well said, Julie! While the context is broader, the application to man’s willful ignorance is exposed by Romans 1:18 – “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…” Men now have less tangible evidence to permit ignorance in murdering the unborn, but culpability has always been present. Your good response, however, does not negate the impact of this excellent post. Thanks, Jesse for reminding us of the issue of the murder of the innocent and the foolishness of men who try to suppress the truth of the value of human life – at any stage of its existence.

  • Drew Sparks


    Thank you for your post. I was wondering, since you have brought this up before, how does your church get involved in this issue? How should the church respond to abortion as well as clinics within their area? I am not a fan of standing outside and picketing, and I would like to know what your church does in this arena. Thanks.

  • JD Taliaferro

    This is an excellent explanation of a denial of a request for reversal of a temporary stay of a permanent injunction of a ban.

    It sounds like it is going to ultimately go back to the SC on the permanent injunction.

    As for Breyer, he also said “although the injunction will ultimately be reinstated if the law is indeed invalid,the harms to the individual women whose rights it restricts while it remains in effect will be permanent” and “I can find no significant “public interest” considerations beyond those [pro-abortion reasons] I have already mentioned.”

    The implication is clear. The permanent harm would be delivering a baby the mother didn’t want and there simply aren’t any public interest concerns – like say, for instance, perhaps life – on the other side. Sarcasm intended.

  • I’m convinced that pro-life should be a verb, especially in evangelical Christianity. Protesting clinics is fine, but there are also hundreds of thousands in orphanages and foster homes that, too frequently, just get ignored. What is the greater service that those who are pro-life should be offering?

    The question I think should be asked of the church is: If a pregnant woman came to your door and pleaded for YOU to take their child and raise him or her, would you be immediately willing?

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