Florida Catholic Bishops wrongly oppose Personhood Amendment

It is our opinion, and that of the legal experts with whom we have consulted, that passage of this amendment would not achieve the goal of overturning Roe v. Wade.

If such an amendment were to pass, a feat more difficult in our state due to the requirement to achieve support by 60% of voters, we are convinced that a federal district court would strike it down based on Roe. This decision would undoubtedly be affirmed by an appellate court, and the case would either not be granted further review by today’s U.S. Supreme Court, or worse, lead to a reaffirmation of Roe. The unintended effect would very likely jeopardize current protections in state law and cause a loss of momentum in the ultimate goal of establishing full legal protection of the unborn from the moment of conception.

- The Catholic Bishops of Florida


In a nutshell: Based on the idea that the Personhood Amendment would cause the Supreme Court to rule on Roe v. Wade, no one should support this. Instead we should focus on incremental measures.

This is wrong for several reasons.

Yes, it is the culture that changes the law, but it is meaningless to talk about changing the culture unless we are actively involved in changing the beliefs, values and laws that govern us as individuals. We must do this through constant discussion, debate and education. Advocating for a Personhood Amendment is an excellent way to do this.

Furthermore, incremental measures may be seen to be counterproductive in our attempt. Every law that places a restriction on abortion is in fact a legal precedent that affirms Roe v. Wade. Even if Roe were struck down tomorrow, these incremental measures would stand even in states that had a ban or restriction on abortion prior to Roe.

“You must have parental consent, a five day waiting period, and an ultra-sound, then you have the legal right to kill your baby!”

That is the standard presented by the Catholic bishops of Florida at this time. This is no way to build a culture of life. We cannot affirm the right to life by sanctioning legal child murder only in some circumstances. The way to affirm a culture of life is to legally define the personhood of a human being from the beginning of biological development.

It is an incremental step in that regard.

We can legally define “the beginning of biological development” as constituting a human life, a legal “person” and a “natural person.” That will change the culture.

To get 60 percent of the voters to agree to this, first we must ask eight percent to think about it and agree with their signatures that such an amendment is needed. Even if we fail to get the signatures needed, we are actively engaging in evangelism, getting the hearts and minds of people lined up with truth. People who have never evangelized before will lead people to Christ through their petitioning. That will change the culture.

When we get the amendment on the ballot, there will be a huge fight. A debate over abortion and when life begins has never occurred in our culture at large. Legalized abortion for any reason through all nine months of pregnancy was enforced from the top down in most states by a Supreme Court decision. Even in states that had legal abortion, there were restrictions that were knocked down by Roe and Doe v. Bolton. For the first time in 37 years, we will be calling on the free will of the people to decide for themselves. That will change the culture.

If the measure fails in Florida, we will keep trying in other states until one passes. Within 24 hours there will be a legal injunction by a higher court that calls on the state to not enforce laws regulating or banning abortion. At that point, the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case. Even if we lose, we win. It will establish a clear cut division between the will of the courts and the will of the people. That will change the culture.

Then we will seek to pass such amendments and resolutions in other states. That will change the culture.

We will eventually get such an intitiative passed in 34 of the so-called “red states” — enough for a United States Constitutional Amendment that will protect the life of a person from the beginning of biological development. Roe will be moot. Now longer will it be the fiat “law of the land” enforced by judicial tyranny. It will only apply to Roe and Wade. And I hear Jane Roe is now pro-life.

We can change the culture, but it must come from the will of the people, not through the courts. It must come through the states.

Key facts

1. Through 2008, there were 24 voter petition initiatives on the Florida ballot since the process began in 1978 (in addition to legislative initiatives).

2. Of those 24, 20 were approved by voters.

3. Florida voters have approved a higher percentage of their statewide ballot measures than voters in any other state.

This position paper is not copyrighted and may be forwarded and distributed to anyone without prior permission.

- Jay Rogers
https://www.forerunner.com/

4 Comments

What a great analysis. Thank you!
Gualberto Garcia Jones
Co-proponent of the 2010 Colorado Personhood Amendment .
The Florida Bishops are afraid to break ranks with the other Catholic Conferences. They are repeating talking points given them by Richard Doerflinger of the USCCB and Clarke Forsythe, of American's United for Life.

These organizations have made the "prudential judgment" to take the incrementalist approach. Good for them. However, they have also made the "prudential judgement" not to engage the proponents of state Pershonhood movements, but to go behind their backs and exert their influence with Catholic Conferences to get them to prevent Catholics from collecting signatures at Church. I do think that "prudential judgement" means that you've made a good effort to determine the right way to go, because it's not obvious. Both sides of the "personhood" debate are making prudential judgments. However, only one side is trying to knee-cap the other.
The strength of the pro-life argument is that a human being is a person from the beginning of biological development.

That is what we must continually say and seek to legislate. It is an undeniable truth that when a human life begins to develop, it is a person. If we hold this view, but adopt only an incrementalist approach, we are sending the message to our opponents that we really don't believe our own rhetoric about the sanctity of the life of the child.

The debate will then center around the "right to privacy" and "the rights of women to make reproductive choices." This is what the pro-abortion advocates want. They have successfully defined the parameters of the debate. They are more than happy to go toe-to-toe with the incrementalists pretending to be outraged at our attempts to require waiting periods, ultrasounds, parental notification and a ban on partial birth abortion, but quietly acquiescing because they know that such restrictions actually create a stronger precedent for the right to abortion in over 99 percent of all circumstances. However, they become absolutely hysterical when we not only say abortion is murder, but also acts like it is murder.

With or without the Catholic Bishops, the Personhood Amendment will be on the ballot in either 2010 or 2012. Florida's black and Hispanic voters (which make up 32 percent of the population) will support it overwhelmingly as they did the marriage amendment. It's not a partisan issue, but a stance we know more than 60 percent of Americans agree with -- that a human being is a person from the beginning of biological development.

We are seeing in Orlando for instance about an 80 to 90 percent success rate for those who are targeted for petition signatures.

We need about 300 people who can each gather a few hundred signatures a month over the next few months to get to the 600,000 plus needed for ballot access. As we are going we are recruiting other petitioners and the numbers are snowballing across the state.

A lot of excitement is being generated. We are already seeing volunteers from other states move to Florida at their own expense in order to gather signatures.

We know who and where our supporters are and we know how to get out the vote. This was proven with Proposition 2, when the marriage amendment passed overwhelmingly even though many predicted it would fail to reach the needed 60 percent.

If just nine bishops refuse to vote for the Personhood Amendment, then so be it. We can do it without their votes. But hopefully in their opposition, they won't cause too many Catholics to vote in favor of abortion.

Pope John Paul II approved and used the following quote in his March 25, 1995 letter (Encyclical) entitled “Gospel of Life” (“Evangelium Vitae”) written to Catholic Bishops and all people of good will:

“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.”

Regardless of the above teaching of the Catholic Church, at a Georgia hearing on the Georgia Human Life Amendment, the Thomas More Law Center (a national leader for the Personhood Amendment) sat with the Georgia Right to Life group at one table supporting the amendment, but on the other side of aisle was the table of those opposing the Human Life Amendment. Sitting together at that opposition table were the lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the lawyers for the Georgia Bishops.

No wonder Catholic lay people are confused on abortion when Bishops seem more in communion with Planned Parenthood than the Pope.

– a Florida Catholic

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