North Dakota Bishops Nullify Personhood!

Every once in a while I find an article that is so superb it needs to be seen by as many people as possible.  The following is one such offering by Robert L. Hale, an expert on the law and personhood. As Professor Dianne Irving wrote to us at American Life League when she first read the article:

In these times of "accountability", isn't it time that the American bishops be held accountable for the scandalous anti-life policies that too many of them have been forming and advancing for the last 40 years?  No one can get straight answers from them.  They should be required to give complete explicit rational reasons for their positions and policies and be ready to fully defend them — like the rest of us are.

It should also be noted that such "silence" is usually a characteristic of those who very early on adopted the fake scientific term "pre-embryo" in order to "justify" their reticence in reversing Roe.  Indeed, the Roe decision was essentially based on briefings from those who were "pre-embryo" advocates.  Instead, there has been a constant stream of "pre-embryo substitutes" (use different terms but have the same agenda and goals) spawned not only by the secular society, but also from many in "pro-life" and from many in the bishops' own camps.  Could this help explain the failed "incrementalism" policies such "pre-embryos" have advocated for so long – under the guise of being "pastoral"?  I have noted before that there was nothing "incremental" whatsoever about the Roe decision.  It was simply dumped on the American public almost overnight.  Perhaps such "pro-life" incrementalists oppose solid and scientifically accurate "human personhood" bills like the one in North Dakota because they would all be out of a job, or funding, if these bills succeeded.

While some might suggest that Dr. Irving’s comments are harsh, they are totally honest and reflect the feelings of far too many in the pro-human-personhood effort.  As you will learn from Mr. Hale, the Bishops in North Dakota did not provide solid arguments for opposing personhood; their position was strictly political.  Please enjoy the article entitled "North Dakota Catholic Bishops Opt to Preserve Roe v. Wade" by Robert L. Hale (N.B.: This column is copyright by Robert L. Hale and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.)

MINOT, N.D.- Rep. Dan Ruby (R-Minot, N.D.)  introduced a bill (HB 1572) in the North Dakota House of Representatives that defined "individual, person, or human being" as "any organism with the genome of homo sapiens." The intent of the bill was to clarify personhood under the state constitution. The bill was passed by the House and moved to the Senate.

Four days before the Senate hearing on the bill, North Dakota's two Catholic bishops, Paul Zipfel of Bismarck and Samuel Aquila of Fargo, called a news conference to announce they could not support the bill as written.  They offered amendments that gutted the bill in its entirety — striking every word of the original bill, including the operative word "person."

Neither bishop nor staff member contacted Rep. Ruby to discuss any concerns prior to the news conference. Neither testified at the House hearing. At the news conference, they stated, "We have directed the North Dakota Catholic Conference to draft amendments that would preserve the intent of HB 1572 while eliminating unnecessary problems." Rep. Ruby's repeated calls to Bishop Zipfel went unanswered.

The intent of Rep. Ruby's bill was to respond to Justice Blackmun's acknowledgment in Roe v. Wade that the U.S. constitution did not define "person." This was the pivotal basis on which that decision concluded that there was no recognizable life issue. The ruling determined that, since "life" was unknown, the liberty interest of the woman to decide how to deal with her pregnancy must be paramount.

In short, there was no "person" to protect. The Justice noted, however, that if "personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course, collapses, for the fetus's right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment (14th)."

If Rep. Ruby's bill were to become law, then the question posed by Justice Blackmun would be at issue; the Supreme Court would have a chance to decide whether state sovereignty, relative to the protection of persons, would be upheld. In the event the Court were to decide in the affirmative, each state would be free to legislate as it sees fit, relative to the protection of persons.

Rep. Ruby's bill has put that question before the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time.

The bishops stated their intent was to, "Make the bill more a statement of legislative intent to guide legal interpretation rather than a mandate to revise application of existing laws."

The reality is that Bishop Zipfel opposes anything that would reinstate North Dakota's abortion laws prior to Roe. He has repeatedly opposed bills that would potentially challenge Roe. He believes that women should never be held legally liable for procuring abortions and that the repeal of Roe would do just that in North Dakota. 

Bishop Zipfel has used his office and the North Dakota Catholic Conference to gut HB 1572. While he claims his wishes to "preserve the intent of HB 1572," he does no such thing. The bishops totally eliminated every word of the bill, including the critical word "person," and replaced them with 218 words, many of which the courts have rejected.

While Bishop Zipfel and the North Dakota Catholic Conference use the right rhetoric and claim they wish to provide, "a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and its progeny," their actions speak louder than their words. They propose to gut a bill that poses one simple question to the Supreme Court: In the absence of a U.S. Constitutional definition of "person," can a state define "person"? They replace it with confusion and ambiguity, and they leave out the critical term.

Why didn't the bishops introduce their own bill if they believe they know how to challenge Roe? Why are they challenging and gutting HB 1572 after it has passed the House?  Why have they refused to talk with the sponsor of HB 1572? Their actions challenging the bill may well ensure its failure.  

For those who wonder why abortion, after 36 years, is still taking almost 1.5 million lives each year in the U.S., the bishops' actions in North Dakota help to answer that question.

As we ponder the situation that has arisen not only in North Dakota, but also in states like Colorado, Georgia and Montana, where Catholic bishops have undermined personhood efforts, we really need to inquire of them regarding the substantive reasons why they are literally taking indefensible positions.  As Mr. Hale points out, it has been 36 years and to this very day not one United States Catholic bishop has ever publicly advocated for personhood.  What could the reason for this silence possibly be? 

Frankly, if Catholic bishops really do not see the value of pursuing personhood, perhaps they should visit with Mr. Hale, or Professor Charles Rice or Mr. Robert Muise or Mr. Richard Thompson or Mr. John Archibold or any of the other astute pro-life legal minds who have provided each of us with the legal framework while Professor Irving has consistently provided the science.

If you are compelled to contact Bishop Zipfel and Bishop Aquila, we ask only that you do so with the utmost respect.

Bishop Paul Zipfel
Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota
The Chancery Office
420 Raymond Street
PO Box 1575
Bismarck, ND 58502-1575

or submit comments on line at

Bishop Samuel J. Aquila,