Perhaps the most famous example of the government persecuting Catholic religious sisters in recent memory is the years-long fight involving the Little Sisters of the Poor. For years, the nation watched as government officials attempted to use Obamacare mandates to force the Sisters to offer contraceptives and abortifacients in their health plans.
While such legal situations are terrible to behold, there is at least a consistency in the enforcement of the (unjust) law in question. The Little Sisters of the Poor was not targeted by the law: The secular leftist orthodoxy demands that all employers cover contraceptives and abortifacients for employees. There is a similar consistency in cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop and 303 Creative — the laws are not targeting religious belief or practice in particular. Rather, they reveal how governments are creating policies based on a false understanding of life and the human person and then imposing them on everyone. No exceptions. Not even for nuns.
But it is a separate issue when state governments are emboldened enough to pass laws that explicitly single out pro-life religious persons or organizations. Last year, the Sisters of Life (and with them all pro-life pregnancy centers in the state of New York) became the latest victims of targeted legal attacks from a hostile state government.
In 2022, New York enacted a series of state laws to protect and promote abortion in response to the coming Dobbs decision. Among other troubling pro-abortion measures, the law attempted to give the New York health commissioner power to request data from “limited service pregnancy centers.” Let us be clear: By “limited service,” the law was singling out the pregnancy centers that do not provide abortion. The law allows the state to request a broad array of information including demographic information about the women who come to the pregnancy center, the services provided, what options or services the women are seeking, and what information the pregnancy center is giving to women who receive services.
There is much to be disturbed by here. Why is the government demanding demographic information about women who come to crisis pregnancy centers? Why does the state of New York require a group of religious sisters to turn over information about what services it offers to women and what those women talk about when they walk through the door of a crisis pregnancy center? As New York City suffers from crises of mass migration, homelessness, and crime, one would be justified to wonder why the focus on pro-life pregnancy centers could possibly be a priority of state government.
One would think that such a direct attack singling out faith-based, pro-life pregnancy centers would be done in the dark. But Gov. Kathy Hochul seemed to relish the opportunity to publicly attack the “Neanderthals” who dare oppose the abortion regime. She insists that women will not have the “right” to abort their babies unless abortion is available in every facility that calls itself a pregnancy center. Somehow, the very existence of crisis pregnancy centers that do not offer abortion and instead help women and their children poses a dire threat.
When the leaders of state governments engage in open lawfare directly targeting pro-life, religious organizations, we should pay attention.
A similarly disturbing legal situation arose in Colorado recently in the Bella Health case, where the state government effectively banned prescribing the harmless, naturally-occurring hormone progesterone for the purpose of reversing the effects of the abortion pill. It is alarming that things have gone so far that state laws can target pro-life pregnancy centers but not abortion facilities, or abortion pill reversal treatments but not abortion pills themselves.
This is not merely a secular policy decision, but an open attack on life and religion.
But there is good news: Pro-life religious organizations are fighting back. And they are winning. In both Sisters of Life and Bella Health, the good folks at Becket Law have offered excellent legal representation and achieved important victories. While pro-lifers and religious folks are facing an uphill battle both institutionally and financially, the battle must be waged. We cannot fold in the face of these blatant, offensive encroachments on the protection of life and the practice of religion. Thankfully, there are resources available to fight the good fight.
Conservatives must not lose sight of the big picture. The general ideology of the current regime is secular and harmful to the common good. Even if laws are neutrally applied to all, they are still unjust when they are applied to seek immoral ends. It is unacceptable and dangerous when laws undermine marriage, destroy life, or promote false understandings of life and the human person. It doesn’t matter if 51 percent of the population supports it — majority support does not make a law good, tolerable, or legitimate. We must fight constantly against a regime that seeks to replace the wisdom and experience of the ages.
Even if the governing regime is not ruled by traditional principles of the common good, conservatives should at the very least be legally protected. In a free society, laws targeting religious sisters, faith-based health clinics, and pro-life Christians in general should be completely intolerable. Yet they have become mainstream.
Let us pray, hope, and fight for a society where the common good is enshrined in law. In the meantime, thank God for the Sisters of Life, for Bella Health and Wellness, and for lawyers at places like Becket for their willingness to fight for the right to do good.