Catholic University law school professor Mark Rienzi decried what he called the Obama Administration’s “continued assault” on religious freedom, especially as it relates to the mandatory provision of insurance coverage for drugs that induce abortions by religiously-affiliated employers.
“Pro-lifers are simply asking for the right not to be involved in what they consider an injustice,” said Rienzi.
A frequent commentator in recent weeks on the controversial HHS mandate that would force many Catholic employers to provide contraceptives, sterilization, or abortions for its students or employees, Rienzi used the 20th Annual Mirror of Justice Lecture on Feb. 29, “Religious Liberty, Free Speech, and the Fight for Life,” to reiterate and expand upon many of the points he has made recently in the media.
Sponsored by The Pope John Paul II Guild of Catholic Lawyers, the Mirror of Justice lecture provides a forum for faculty members “whose scholarship advances our insights toward achieving justice through law in contemporary society.”
Rienzi’s lecture examined the history of jurisprudence regarding the legal status of the human embryo, considered recent state laws designed to quell pro-life voices, and concluded with an examination of the issues surrounding the recent federal regulations.
As far back as the 1840s, Rienzi noted, American courts recognized the humanity of the unborn fetus in many written decisions, long before today’s medical technology provided ultrasound images and the audio of a heartbeat.
“Roe v Wade is built on the lie that we’re not sure if these people are alive. The only question [surrounding abortion] is moral and ethical,” he said.
Rienzi then traced efforts by a number of states, including Illinois, Maryland, and Washington, to marginalize pro-life objectors. The attempts have taken different forms: in Illinois, for example, by forcing a small local pharmacy to sell abortion drugs over the conscience objections of its owners.
“People who are pro-life are to be silenced or burdened [with onerous speech restrictions]” said Rienzi, who noted that state attempts to quash pro-life viewpoints have unanimously been rejected by courts so far.
But the most controversial development in the abortion war recently is the new set of rules promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services that would, with few exceptions, force religious employers to cover services in their health insurance plans that directly contradict their teachings and beliefs.
Some have already sued, including Belmont Abbey College, a small Catholic college in Belmont, N.C. The college does not provide contraceptives, sterilization, or abortions for its students or employees. Rienzi is representing the college through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
“The notion that the only way to get contraceptives in North Carolina is for Benedictine monks to hand them out is absurd,” said Rienzi, who argued that contraceptives, morning after pills, and similar products are widely available across the country. “There is no access problem at all. It’s a complete fake,” he said.
Rienzi concluded his lecture by urging pro-life supporters to stand their ground, and referencing well-known words from Dr. Martin Luther King about the moral arc of the universe bending toward justice.
“The moral arc can’t bend toward justice if the public square is cleared of people who would push it that way,” he said.