Human Personhood Is Imperative In The Defense Of Life

December 7, 2009 09:00 AM

By Gualberto Garcia Jones, J.D.

Pope John Paul II made the proclamation of the Gospel of life one of the central aspects of his papacy. It is little wonder that the theme of the 1993 World Youth Day, celebrated in Denver, Colorado, was “I came so that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Pope John Paul II was painfully aware of the moral depravity into which Colorado had plunged our nation and the world when, in 1967, it became the first state to decriminalize the killing of innocent children in the womb and thus deprive them of their human personhood. He never shied away from proclaiming the truth and taught us, “In the proclamation of this Gospel, we must not fear hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform us to the world's way of thinking (cf. Rom 12:2). We must be in the world but not of the world (cf. Jn 15:19; 17:16), drawing our strength from Christ, Who by His death and resurrection has overcome the world (cf. Jn 16:33)” (Evangelium Vitae, #82)

As a proponent of Colorado’s 2010 Personhood Amendment  and a Catholic, I feel called to fight a battle that, except for the light of Christ, is filled with discouragement, division, uncertainty and darkness. I ask you to join me in the fight against the culture of death by getting personally involved in gathering signatures to put the amendment on the ballot for the November 2010 election.

A personhood amendment is an ideal approach for carrying the Gospel of life to our brothers and sisters. There are several reasons why this is so: It is a vehicle for educating our fellow citizens; it requires the direct participation of the faithful; it restores the proper relationship between divine law, the government and the people; and it directs our hope not to a politician or judges, but to Christ on the cross as we entrust this effort to Him.

In order to achieve these important goals, we need you to reach out to your fellow Catholics and help us collect 76,047 signatures by February 2010.

Personhood is truth

Personhood is a philosophical fact, rooted in fundamental scientific evidence, which holds that from “the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2270). Why do we insist on using the word “person” in our fight against the attacks on human dignity? Why not define when life begins or what a human being is? To understand this, we must first understand the meaning of the word “person.” The word “person” has different meanings, depending on the context in which it is used.

In a theological context, the word “person” refers to the union of the physical and the spiritual, in other words, body and soul. In Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II asks the rhetorical question, how could a human individual not be a human person? In other words, the Catholic teaching that a human individual is also a human person is a self-evident truth.

Within the context of an atheistic philosophy, the term “person” is defined by a set of utilitarian qualities: Is the human being self-aware? Does he or she have the capacity to reason? Can he or she live independently and develop relationships? All of these are the complete opposite of what our faith teaches. Human dignity comes not from our differing abilities and qualities, but from God Himself, Who is the Author/Creator of every human individual’s life.

In a legal context, a proper definition of the word “person” is of extreme importance.The United States Constitution uses the word “person” 49 times. On the other hand, it never uses the word “human being” or “human life” or even just “human.” The reason is quite simple: The Constitution is primarily concerned with rights, and the term for one who is recognized by law as having rights and duties is “person.”

In the case of Colorado v. Lage (2009), a man who crashed his car head-on into a car driven by an eight-and-a-half months expectant mother, was able to avoid being charged with killing the child in the womb because the court felt “compelled by the legislature’s definition of a 'person,'” which only considered a human being to be a “person” after birth. Clearly, the constitutional definition of the word “person” is critical to the defense of preborn children.

Personhood is not a question of practicality

Questions have been raised regarding the practicality of a human personhood amendment. Typical arguments against personhood are the following: 1) We need to wait until we have more supportive justices on the Supreme Court; 2) the amendment already lost in a popular vote once, and such efforts divert attention and resources away from more achievable measures; and 3) even if the amendment were to pass, it would have a negative legal effect.

A detailed refutation of each of these arguments is available on Personhood Colorado’s web site.  I encourage all of you to read them. But more eloquent than all of the rational and legal arguments that I can offer are the deeply insightful and inspired words of our beloved John Paul II. This great defender of life wrote, “[W]hen freedom is detached from objective truth it becomes impossible to establish personal rights on a firm rational basis; and the ground is laid for society to be at the mercy of the unrestrained will of individuals or the oppressive totalitarianism of public authority” (EV, # 96).

These words answer all the arguments against personhood. They highlight the need to disengage from corrupt and unjust laws, and establish a solid foundation for real freedom based in truth.

The great defender of life also points out, “No less critical in the formation of conscience is the recovery of the necessary link between freedom and truth” (EV, # 96). In other words, focus on education; focus on the principle.

The Personhood Amendment first and foremost aims at a cultural transformation that will form consciences “with regard to the incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life” (EV, #96). In that light, the pessimistic arguments against the Personhood Amendment are transformed into the very reasons why we must participate in it. The darker our culture, the greater the need for the bright light of truth.

Although personhood is about principle, it also has a solid legal basis. While some lawyers disagree on the practicality of personhood amendments, prestigious Catholic law firms such as the Thomas More Law Center and renowned Catholic legal scholars such as Charles Rice, professor emeritus of law at the University of Notre Dame, strongly support personhood efforts, describing them as “prudent, timely and positive.” Professor Rice explains that personhood amendments are “an affirmation of the federalism embodied in the general structure of the United States Constitution as well as in the Tenth Amendment.”

Pro-lifers should know that the state personhood amendment approach to prohibiting abortion has never been tried and thus has never failed. Isn’t it worth a shot?

Yet, apart from all the legal strategizing, personhood is fundamentally about principle, a Catholic and universal principle that all human beings must have the rights of a person from the very first moment of his or her existence. Unless we instill this principle, no legal strategy will ever set our hearts straight, and unless our hearts are changed, the law will be devoid of meaning.

Personhood is faith in action

“But He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Approaching a complete stranger in public and talking to him about abortion is one of the most uncomfortable things you can ask a person to do. Even door-to-door salesmen are treated better than pro-life missionaries. Yet, as Christians, we know that our calling is to follow in the steps of Jesus Christ, Who was rejected and despised but was faithful even unto death!

Pope John Paul II asked us “to bring the Gospel of life to the heart of every man and woman and to make it penetrate every part of society” (EV, #80). Taking a petition and engaging everyone, regardless of their appearance or station in life, is an act of faith. We are entrusting what we do to Christ and accepting the various reactions we receive as God’s will.

While gathering signatures at the Colorado State Fair, I learned the value of approaching every person, regardless of their appearance. Many people who wore large crucifixes “had no time” or would “do it another day.” Yet young men and women with tattoos and immodest clothing would stop and talk about abortion, and often they would sign our petition.

Having an active presence in the legislature to represent Catholic moral beliefs is important, but it is no substitute for the personal evangelical calling of every Catholic. Changing laws does not necessarily change hearts, but personal example and personal sacrifice does.

The campaign for the Colorado Personhood Amendment illustrates the Catholic principle of subsidiarity in action. This principle holds that functions of government, business and other secular activities should be as local as possible. Individual Catholics, Catholic families and Catholic parishes should not leave to larger organizations what they themselves can do. The initiative process affords individuals the power to shape their own constitution, which is both a privilege and a responsibility. Subsidiarity encourages personal responsibility and, consequently, a concurrent personal transformation.

Gathering signatures to put this amendment on the ballot has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. By making myself an advocate for the voiceless preborn child and accepting the occasional rejection of friend and foe alike, I have grown closer to Christ, experiencing that redemptive suffering that makes us grow in our love for God.

The battle against the culture of death is a difficult one. “To be truly a people at the service of life we must propose these truths constantly and courageously from the very first proclamation of the Gospel, and thereafter in catechesis, in the various forms of preaching, in personal dialogue and in all educational activity” (EV, #82) These words are John Paul the Great’s. His life was an example of living out the Gospel of life.

It is our calling as Catholics to follow Christ’s example as faithfully as have our beloved popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I believe the Colorado Personhood Amendment offers us, as Catholics, an unrivaled opportunity to do so. As Mother Teresa said, we are called to be faithful, not to be successful, for the way of the faithful Christian turns defeat into victory and death into life.

“Death with life contended: combat strangely ended! Life’s own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign” (Roman Missal, "Sequence for Easter Sunday").

Gualberto Garcia Jones, J.D., graduated from the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., and is director of Personhood Colorado and founder of Colorado Catholics for PersonhoodThis article is printed with his kind permission.

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