Friday, June 15, 2018

Court Enforces Document Subpoena Against Texas Catholic Bishops

Last year a suit was filed in Texas federal district court challenging the constitutionality of a Texas law that requires health providers to bury or cremate fetal remains after an abortion. (See prior related posting.) A preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law was issued in January.  Now, as the case moves toward trial, a federal district court has rejected a motion filed by the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops attempting to quash a subpoena for documents.  In Whole Woman's Health v. Smith, (WD TX, June 13, 2018), the court rejected a free exercise challenge to a subpoena for e-mails relating to burial, cremation, or disposition of fetal or embryonic tissue.  The court said in part:
The documents requested do not address religious doctrine or church governance, but instead relate directly to a factual issue that will be central at trial: precisely what burial services are available, and will remain available, to abortion providers in Texas. That the primary organization presently offering to make those services available is a church does not make the relevant facts immune from discovery....
...  [E]ven if there would be some chilling effect on the members of the TCCB if the subpoenaed documents are produced—and that is doubtful—the Plaintiffs’ interest in obtaining the documents is sufficient to outweigh any such impact.