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SCOTUS urged by federal judges to review abortion mandate

DALLAS (BP) — Five judges on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals have sharply criticized the court decision that ruled against GuideStone Financial Resources earlier this summer.

A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled against GuideStone and GuideStone participants Truett-McConnell College and Reaching Souls International in July. See related story.

In a rare move, the entire 10th Circuit, on its own initiative, took a vote on whether to reconsider the panel decision. When the vote narrowly fell short, five of the 19 judges issued a dissenting opinion. Their opinion, released Thursday (Sept. 3), explains why the panel decision was “a dangerous approach to religious liberty” that is so “clearly and gravely wrong” that it “will not long survive.”

Judges registering the dissent were Paul Kelly, Harris Hartz, Timothy Tymkovich, Neil Gorsuch and Jerome Holmes.

The Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate requires ministries that are not churches or integrated auxiliaries of churches to provide abortion-causing drugs and devices in their health plans or to face crippling fines. The parties in the case have argued that a false “accommodation” offered by the government still forces the ministries to violate their faith.

GuideStone, along with churches and a very narrow class of other ministries, are exempt from the mandate and its penalties. But hundreds of evangelical Christian ministries that rely on GuideStone for their health benefits are not exempt and must comply with the government’s system or pay enormous fines.

“This is extraordinary,” Harold R. Loftin Jr., general counsel for GuideStone, said of “the powerful opinion from these five judges … who have rejected the government’s attack on religious liberty.”

“This quickly growing repudiation is very important and provides further proof that the U.S. Supreme Court should hear our appeal,” Loftin said.

The three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court ruled 2-1 against GuideStone on July 14. An injunction protecting affected ministries from the mandate’s penalties remains in effect.

GuideStone and its co-plaintiffs Truett-McConnell College and Reaching Souls International have filed an appeal to the Supreme Court alongside the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic ministry. A decision on whether the Supreme Court will hear the appeal is expected by early October.