Vitals Reporting on the pro-life movement

Pro-lifers take sides in unusual debate

Life | An Arkansas tort reform measure divides allies 
by Samantha Gobba
Posted 8/27/18, 05:01 pm

An effort to limit certain damages in lawsuits in Arkansas has divided pro-life advocates, with some arguing the ballot initiative puts a price on human life, while others say it has nothing to do with defending the unborn and would help state residents and businesses.

Senate Joint Resolution 8, known as “Issue 1,” would amend the state constitution to limit punitive and noneconomic damages in lawsuits to the greater of $500,000 or three times the total damages awarded. It would also cap lawyer fees at one-third of the total damages.

The Little Rock–based Family Council Action Committee says opposing the tort reform is a pro-life issue, and the group’s leader, Jerry Cox, has been asking pastors in Arkansas to oppose the resolution. In particular, he laments the state of nursing homes in Arkansas and says those harmed by negligence need adequate recourse in the courts.

“What we have here is a case of what could have been good tort reform being changed into something that we believe puts a dollar value on human life,” Cox told me, “because what it does is it shields bad nursing homes from lawsuits when they cause an injury or a death.”

If voters approve the ballot initiative in November, the law would still allow unlimited economic damages to make up for a defendant’s lost wages or damage to equipment, but Cox said that the proposed $500,000 limit on punitive and noneconomic damages would prevent adequate compensation to people who don’t earn an income, such as children, the elderly, or stay-at-home mothers.

“They chose to write a measure that pretty much takes away the poor man’s key to the courthouse by putting all these restrictions on lawsuits that can be taken into court,” he said.

Proponents of the reform include four medical groups, the state’s trucking association, and An American Speaks, a Christian advocacy group.

Toni Rose, co-founder of An American Speaks, said Arkansas badly needs to attract businesses and healthcare providers, and limiting lawsuits over emotional or psychological damages would be one step in the right direction.

“I just don’t understand how anyone who has been fighting the pro-life battle for so many years could possibly dilute that message by making tort reform anything but an economic and political issue,” she said.

State Rep. Bob Ballinger, a pro-life Republican, supports tort reform in part because he thinks it would help combat what he called one of the most litigious business climates in the nation.

“We are almost dead last in Arkansas in so many different areas,” he told me. “Forty-eighth in access to OB-GYNs. We are dead last when it comes to access to emergency medicine. When it comes to specialists, we are near the bottom. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.” Some of his constituents, he said, live in rural areas and have to drive over an hour to reach a hospital.

Trial lawyers were able to dismantle a tort reform bill passed in 2003, but Ballinger said malpractice claims initially dropped after the law went into effect.

The ballot initiative is likely to pass, he said, adding that he thinks most pro-lifers are likely to vote for it: “When the facts are laid on the table, I think the citizens of Arkansas are generally supportive of tort reform.”

iStock.com/Wolterk iStock.com/Wolterk Entrance to the University of Minnesota

University can still experiment on fetal tissue

The Thomas More Society lost an appeal of its challenge to the University of Minnesota’s use of aborted fetal tissue in research. The Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with the university, which claims it carries out research in an “ethical, respectful, and lawful manner.”

A trial court dismissed the suit last May citing a lack of evidence that the university was breaking the law, and the appellate court simply pointed to a 2017 reporting law that it said created an exception for the university in the state’s ban on fetal tissue experimentation.

Erick Kaardal, an attorney with the pro-life legal group, said the ruling could prompt the state legislature to reconsider whether it would allow the university to continue its practice.

“The school’s lack of transparency hid its illegalities from public view,” Kaardal said in a statement. “Now, with the Court of Appeals accepting the university’s claim that the 2017 law contains a loophole for this kind of experimentation, the legislature can reconsider whether the university should be doing this kind of research at all. The University of Minnesota is running out of tricks that have allowed it to continue this bioethically questionable research without public view.” —S.G.

Associated Press/Photo by Hans Pennink Associated Press/Photo by Hans Pennink Barbara Underwood

New York targets pro-lifers again

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed an appeal last week with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals against a ruling in favor of pro-life sidewalk counselors.

In July, U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon wrote a 103-page opinion in favor of the counselors, whom she concluded did not threaten or harass women headed into the Choices Medical Clinic, an abortion center in Queens, N.Y.

“It is inconceivable that the attorney general would appeal this case knowing that the lower district court issued a detailed opinion detailing the false and unreliable witnesses of the state,” Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver said in a statement. “This appeal by the attorney general is just another frivolous harassment by the state of New York against our pro-life client.”

Liberty Counsel represents Scott Fitchett Jr., one of 13 sidewalk counselors targeted by former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s lawsuit. —S.G.

Medical abortions continue in Arkansas

A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Arkansas cannot yet enforce a law requiring abortionists who dispense abortion-inducing pills to contract with doctors with hospital admitting privileges who can handle complications. A preliminary injunction blocks the embattled 2015 law. Last year, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the lower court needed to reconsider its decision that the law was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene at that stage. The 8th Circuit’s ruling last week means the law remains enjoined until the lower court rules. —S.G.

Expectant mother parking

Pro-life students at Ball State University in Indiana recently convinced the student government to implement special parking permits for pregnant students. The permits will allow expectant mothers to park closer to academic buildings, according to Nora Hopf, president of Ball State Students for Life. Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, called it example of what pro-life groups “do every single day to advocate for a pro-life culture on their campuses.” —S.G.

Samantha Gobba

Samantha reports on the pro-life movement for WORLD Digital.

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