Freedom & Truth: A Response to the June Medical Services LLC v. Russo Decision

July 10th, 2020

Max Montana | The Senator Tom Coburn Intern

In a 5-4 ruling on June 29, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana state law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, stated that the law would place “substantial obstacles in the path of women seeking an abortion in Louisiana.” 

Putting aside that all ambulatory surgical center medical staffers are already held to this basic standard in the Pelican State, Breyer clearly puts the law in question within the framework of the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. 

This particular Supreme Court ruling invented a structure of abortion jurisprudence allowing states to regulate the abortion industry as long as they don’t “place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion” and, thus, cause an “undue burden” prohibited under the Fourteenth Amendment. 

The use of the Fourteenth Amendment in pro-abortion rulings, including in Casey and Roe v. Wade, has been considered improper by numerous scholars since that amendment was passed in the context of granting citizenship status to and protecting the constitutional rights of the historically oppressed African American population. The amendment was never meant to hamstring individual states from protecting the unborn and women from abortion, but the Supreme Court ruled otherwise in Casey. The amendment also was never meant to prevent a woman facing a life-threatening injury caused by a botched abortion from receiving the best and speediest emergency medical care available, but the nation’s highest court decided differently in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo

I bring up the infamous Casey opinion not to make a constitutional rebuttal, but to bring attention to what has been called the “notorious mystery passage” by the editors of First Things. This passage is a mere 28-word sentence written by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion that reads: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” 

At the heart of this sentiment, Justice Kennedy asserts that true freedom comes from the individual crafting and tinkering his own ego-drama. In other words: I create my own origin, I will my own narrative, I triumph over my enemies and I decide what is of value in order to achieve “liberty”. 

St. Pope John Paul II, someone who saw two dictators completely absorbed in their own ego-dramas carve up and terrorize his native Poland while still a young man, saw through this disordered adaptation of human freedom. While delivering a homily at Camden Yards in October 1995, he said that “the challenge facing America is to find freedom’s fulfillment in the truth.” This mirrored his previous writings describing freedom as only properly ordered when dependent upon truth.

Things, animals and people all having objective value for what or who they are is a major feature of the supernatural and natural truth that the beloved pontiff spoke about so beautifully. 

If you ever gazed out in awe onto the Grand Canyon, you perceived that this vast landscape has objective beauty and steps should be taken to preserve its magnificence. If you watched Tiger King this spring and felt irritated by Joe Exotic’s callous treatment of his tigers, you were recognizing that his big cats are deserving of a certain level of respect and care.

People, too, have objective value, but of a higher sort. Many people today will say that this value comes from our ability to think critically, be a part of a great social movement or show kindness and empathy to each other. While these and other positive achievements are important, I would contend that none of them are the true bedrock of human dignity. 

In our American tradition, we are recognized as valuable and worthy of protection because of the “certain unalienable Rights” given to us from our “Creator” that make us “created equal” in dignity. 

If you’re a political science major, you may remember reading Aristotle’s Politics freshman year and being revolted by the Greek philosopher’s endorsement of slavery as just according to “nature”. Ancient Greece, like in ancient China, Rome and many other once-prominent civilizations, did not operate out of a grounding belief in a single creator god and, thus, many of their citizens endorsed slavery and infanticide for people who lacked a quality that they figured was synonymous with human dignity. 

When we embrace the reasonable truth that human dignity comes from our creation by God as beings meant to share in his divine life and made in his image and likeness, we will quickly understand that we can only access true freedom when we act, speak and, as a nation, choose policies reverencing this reality.

Justice Breyer’s majority opinion in June Medical Services LLC views the Louisiana law in question as simply a bearer of “substantial obstacles”. This fundamentally denies the truth about human beings that brought bipartisan legislators in the Bayou together to pass a bill that made sure indispensable access to a hospital would be readily available for a woman experiencing emergency complications from an abortion. 

Each person, regardless of sex, ethnicity, age or size, has objective value and so much of it. We are called to freely observe this fundamental fact and voice opposition against rulings that emphatically deny it by heartlessly targeting fathers, mothers and the unborn.