(EWTN) Advancing the pro-life cause in the U.S. could hinge upon efforts to defend conscience rights over the course of the next year, according to a legal expert.
Expanding conscience protection will be a “big issue in the year coming up,” predicted William L. Saunders, Jr., the senior vice president of legal affairs at Americans United for Life.
Saunders made his remarks at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 19. He devoted his talk to analyzing the future of the pro-life movement, which he described as “the ultimate human rights issue.”
Attacks on rights of conscience pose “a huge threat” for religious groups and “could even possibly lead to the eclipse of Catholic institutions,” he said.
He explained that one key issue in the next year will be the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which he described as “problematic from a pro-life perspective” because it is not subject to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal tax dollars from funding abortion.
Under the legislation, the Department of Health and Human Services has issued a mandate requiring most religious employers to purchase health insurance plans covering contraception – including abortion-causing drugs – and sterilization, even if doing so is against their beliefs.
The announcement of the mandate has raised an outcry from religious leaders, who maintain that it constitutes the government determining what people can believe.
In addition to a heightened emphasis on conscience issues “at the state level, the national level and the international level,” Saunders expects “increasing studies about the effects of abortion on women’s health” in the next year.
Science is continually showing the detrimental results of abortion on a woman’s physical and psychological condition, he said, and studies illustrating this “essential information” could be critical in advancing the pro-life cause.
In addition, Saunders predicts more research that will show states with more restrictive abortion laws have declining maternal mortality rates. These studies will be important in refuting the argument that abortion must be legal or women will die.
He explained that Ireland, which has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, “has the lowest maternal mortality in Europe,” and Chile, which has the most restrictive abortion laws in South America “has the lowest maternal mortality” in the region.
Saunders also predicted “very strong efforts” on both the state and national level “to limit Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from receiving government funds.”
Such efforts are already well underway in the wake of investigations about reports of Planned Parenthood possibly violating laws involving finances and the reporting of statutory rape and sex trafficking.
Saunders sees potential for many other positive steps at the state level, where “a lot of creativity” and pro-life gains in the last election have created a cause for hope.
Among the possibilities for pro-life legislation is increased regulation of abortion clinics to meet the same standards as other medical facilities and informed consent laws.
“A lot of states are involved in trying to pass ultrasound laws,” he said, noting that some have already succeeded.
Informed consent legislation may prove to be “extremely important” because the Supreme Court has indicated that it would likely uphold such laws, he added.
Saunders also addressed the importance of fighting the false notion of a “right to abortion under international law.” If Roe v. Wade is overturned, he said, abortion-supporting lawyers will argue that because abortion is recognized as a right in international law, the U.S. is obligated to recognize it domestically.
He stressed that in reality, there is no internationally recognized right to abortion. However, if U.S. courts are convinced by this false but dangerous claim, they could force abortion upon an unwilling nation.
Saunders encouraged Catholics to work to support life in their presence at events like the annual March for Life. He especially urged renewed efforts to defend rights of conscience, which he said will be crucial in the upcoming year.
“Conscience is under attack everywhere,” he said.