Tactics — Oh My!

There has been a fair share of commentary written on the Georgia Bishops and their public opposition to the proposed personhood bill (HR 536). In fact the power of the opposition of these bishops combined with the testimony against the bill given by a representative of the Georgia Catholic Conference ultimately killed the bill—at least for now.

Some say it was the tactical question that became the crux of the Bishops’ opposition. In fact in their document, “Reflections on Georgia House Resolution 536,” the Bishops opine that passage of the Human Life Amendment could result in law suits, and they comment as follows:

Legal experts agree that the current Supreme Court would, at best, decline to hear the case, and at worst, use the opportunity to reaffirm the right to abortion yet another time. The more times the Supreme Court’s abortion decisions are affirmed, the more difficult it becomes to obtain further hearings from the Court and to expect decisions to end abortion.

In other words, Georgia’s bishops have access to a crystal ball that has revealed to them what will happen in the future of HR 536 moves ahead today.

Further, the bishops declare that while personhood is a key part of Church teaching, the fact is that the federal constitution has to be amended, not the Georgia constitution, because “abortion is legal in Georgia because the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the ‘right’ to abortion is contained in the U.S. Constitution. Thus, the federal constitution is the problem, not the state Constitution.”

If I might be so bold, this makes no sense at all. Please allow me to make a point that seems to have been totally avoided in the Georgia bishops’ rush to condemn House Resolution 536. The purpose of the proposed Georgia Constitutional Amendment is to bring to the attention of the electorate, and subsequently the judiciary, the simple fact that while the act of abortion has been decriminalized, it would not continue to be so if the laws defined a person as someone who exists from the point when his life is created: fertilization/conception.

The purpose of the proposed Georgia Constitutional Amendment is to answer directly what Justice Harry Blackmun said in the initial Roe v. Wade decision:

[If the] suggestion of personhood [of the preborn] is established, the [abortion rights] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.

This single line, taken from a U. S. Supreme Court decision that was written by the most avid, pro-abortion Supreme Court justice in our history, should be a guiding light for every tactical move made by anyone in a position to choose such maneuvers. 

But I think there is something else going on here that has everything to do with the excuses proffered by those who choose not to directly challenge Roe v. Wade including Georgia’s Catholic bishops. It is clear that personhood is where Roe v. Wade is most vulnerable. But in order to challenge the Court on that critical point, one must have fortitude. One must exhibit the commitment to go against all the odds, all the polls, all the legal opinions and stand up for the truth as it is. Such heroic action requires boldness, not a spirit of timidity. 

The Georgia bishops did not exhibit the fortitude we were praying for, and that is sad.

When I look at what Pope John Paul II had to say about personhood, and I realize that he spoke with the authority of the Vicar of Christ on earth, I am appalled that the tactical maneuvers of some bishops are so far afield from what the Church actually has to say about the person prior to birth.

Let me set forth just a couple of quotations:

The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. (Evangelium Vitae, #60)

Science has now demonstrated [that the embryo] is a human individual who possesses his own identity from conception.  Therefore, it is logical to expect that this identity be legally recognized, above all in its fundamental right to Life . . . [to] recognize the value of life implies consistent measures from the legal point of view, especially the protection of human beings who are unable to defend themselves.  (Angelus address, February 3, 2002)

Clearly, every effort to restore absolute legal protection to each and every innocent preborn child from his very beginning should be the goal, the mantra, the tactical plan of every single Catholic in America, but in a special way it should be the hallmark of everything the bishops teach, preach and politically instigate through their lay representatives. 

Why this is not so is a serious problem, a profound source of sadness and, frankly, a miserable situation.  With all due respect to the holy office of bishop, I have to say that the Georgia bishops should be ashamed.  We are praying for them.