On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Kansas and Louisiana, which are trying to stop Medicaid funds from going to abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.
Four justices must endorse hearing a case for it to come before the high court. In this case, only Justices Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, and Neil Gorsuch voted to hear the appeal. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh sided with the four more liberal justices in rejecting the case.
The news triggered intense debate within the pro-life movement about what this decision means. Some believe this is a huge win for Planned Parenthood and its allies and a sign that the court isn’t as socially conservative as they hoped. Others point out that the rejection of the appeal was based on standing and procedure and was not the merits of the case, so the battle will be postponed to another day.
Liberty Counsel Chairman Mathew Staver sees both sides of the debate.
“They’re both right. On the one hand it is a win for Planned Parenthood,” said Staver. “On the other hand, it is a procedural, statutory issue that doesn’t rule on the merits. It doesn’t give us any indication where this majority court stands on the issue of abortion or Planned Parenthood in particular.”
While the Supreme Court issues majority and dissenting options on cases it handles, the justices are not required to give reasons for accepting or rejecting a case. And while the six justices refusing to hear the case aren’t offering an explanation, Justice Thomas was very forceful in denouncing their ruling.
Thomas points out that different appellate courts have rendered conflicting opinions in this debate over Medicaid funding being used for abortions. That’s usually when the Supreme Court will intervene, but not this time. And Thomas believes the court is looking the other way because they know what an explosive issue this could be.
“Some tenuous connection to a politically fraught issue does not justify abdicating our judicial duty. If anything, neutrally applying the law is all the more important when political issues are in the background,” wrote Thomas, noting that the Constitution grants justices lifetime appointments precisely so they cannot be swayed by the politics of the day.
The reaction from Thomas is one of the reasons many pro-life advocates are worried. Staver understands their concerns, but he urges his friends not to overreact.
“It’s not a ruling in favor of abortion. It’s not indicating where the Supreme Court is heading on abortion or Planned Parenthood. It is only a procedural ruling. At the end of the day, it benefits Planned Parenthood no doubt but I still think there’s a lot more down the line,” said Staver.
Listen to the full podcast to hear Staver’s reaction to some pro-life activists comparing Justice Kavanaugh to former liberal Justice David Souter. He also explains why the court could be making critically important abortion rulings in this term.