UST law prof outlines pro-life legal challenges

| Bridget Ryder | April 12, 2016 | 0 Comments
Women religious and others demonstrate against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate March 23 near the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. CNS

Women religious and others demonstrate against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate March 23 near the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. CNS

Four specific threats to the dignity of human life are interrelated in contributing to laws that deny both the right to life and the natural rights of parents and children, said University of St. Thomas law professor Teresa Collett.

One, she explained, is gender ideology taking shape in the so-called “bathroom wars” over access to opposite-sex restrooms for transgender individuals. And, she added, the denial of the complementarity of men and women that led to same-sex marriage is also reverberating in surrogacy laws.

“Too often, the argument is that if we don’t allow commercial surrogacy, then same-sex couples will not be able to have children,” said Collett, who presented March 31 at the university’s faculty-led Siena Symposium for Women, Family and Culture, inspired by St. John Paul II. “This has been the linchpin of defeat,” Collett said of states that have liberalized regulations on the practice.

In her lecture outlining current and upcoming pro-life legal challenges, she identified three other categories of threats to the dignity of human life:

  • The idea that the freedom of women equals unlimited sexual expression without the consequences of children and without a commitment to any partner.
  • Recasting of marriage primarily as a means of self-expression rather than a gift of self.
  • Intentional degradation of both religion and family, fueled by religious fundamentalism.

In mid-March, Collett testified before the Minnesota State Legislature against the proposed, but since removed, physician-assisted suicide bill, the Compassionate Care Act. She said most testimonies opposed the bill and that the American Catholic Medical Association made a strong showing of doctors against it.

“We have a very strong anti-assisted suicide movement in this state, and our governor isn’t going to push us on this,” she said.

Religious freedom issues

Before her presentation, Collett, a scholar on marriage, religion and bioethics, received the Siena Symposium’s fifth annual Humanitarian Leadership Award. A parishioner of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul, Collett is a consultor for the Pontifical Council for the Family.

“We realized we had a heroine in our own midst,” said Deborah Savage, co-director of the Siena Symposium, as she introduced Collett.

Collett’s lecture also touched on the Affordable Care Act, contraception and the Little Sisters of Poor case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Society has persuaded itself that contraception is necessary to carry on the ‘American dream,’” she said of the ideology behind the federal mandate that insurance plans provide contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.

However, she noted, the Little Sisters’ case looks hopeful. In an unusual decision, the Supreme Court has done something it rarely does — it essentially asked the two sides to find agreement.

“The court doesn’t want to decide the case, so in a remarkable move, it said, ‘Tell us how it can be done, and Little Sisters, you get to comment,’” Collett explained. “They are calling for a settlement.”

This decision was prompted by the possibility that if forced to rule, the case would be ruled in favor of the Little Sisters.

The religious order has a compelling case, Collett said. “Facts tell and stories sell.”

The “story” that the Supreme Court would tell nuns in full habit who serve the elderly at no cost that they have to cover birth control costs in their employee health insurance plans “would be rejected as a movie because it’s too preposterous,” Collett said.

To her law students, she uses an analogy to explain the “injustice of the government providing contraception through the sisters’ insurance plan.” She tells her students to imagine that they jointly own a lake house with a married man. The other owner calls them one day and says, “I know you are going to the lake house this weekend, but I want to go there with my mistress. All you have to do is just not show up.”

She said her students understand that the other owner would take offense at an immoral use of his lake house.

“You don’t get  to use my lake house for that purpose with my knowing it,” she explained.

A majority of the justices on the Supreme Court might understand that, too.

“At least that is my prayer and my hope,” she said.

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