04 February 2010

Florida's Personhood Amendment: Not the Answer, But Don't Shy from Preaching the Gospel of Life

TALLAHASSEE, 5 FEB. 2010 (AS). For those currently uninformed of Florida politics (aside from that little dangling chad issue that the folks in South Florida had during the 2000 election cycle), there is a hot debate going on in Tallahassee over the proposed, so-called “Personhood Amendment” to the state constitution. The text of the amendment is as follows:
SECTION 28. Person Defined.--

(a) The words “person” and “natural person” apply to all human beings, irrespective of age, race, health, function, condition of physical and/or mental dependency and/or disability, or method of reproduction, from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.

(b) This amendment shall take effect on the first day of the next regular legislative session occurring after voter approval of this amendment.
The purpose of the Personhood Amendment, it appears, is to make all forms of abortion at any stage of development and in any circumstance illegal.

However, in the oddest pairing of political bedfellows, Planned Parenthood and Florida’s Catholic Bishops agree, although for vastly different reasons, that the Personhood Amendment is bad and should not be enshrined into the Florida Constitution.

Here is the statement of the Florida Catholic Bishops:
While we sincerely respect the goal to amend the Florida Constitution so as to acknowledge full human rights for every human being, after careful consideration we do not support the currently proposed 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.

We remain of the view that it will be more prudent to pursue incremental measures that add to existing protections in law and help change hearts and minds. Thus, we continue our ongoing efforts with parental notice, clinic regulation, informed consent, partial birth abortion ban, requiring ultrasound before an abortion and funding for Pregnancy Support Services. Finally, it is our earnest hope that all people in the state who respect the great gift of human life will respect each other's efforts, and not let differing views over strategy overshadow our common heartfelt support for building a culture of life.
What Florida’s bishops are saying is this: The Personhood Amendment is not the right way to stem the availability of abortion on demand, and could have the unintended consequence of strengthening, politically or legally, the position of those who argue that “choice” is a right that cannot be derogated. The Bishop’s are making a political calculation that the breadth of the Personhood Amendment will give the pro-choice movement the great political opportunity to characterize those in favor of protecting life as “extreme,” but at the same time will fail, because of its breadth and vagueness, to achieve the actual end of making abortion illegal. As to failing in its ultimate end, legally, I agree with our bishops.

However, I would strongly urge the bishops not to shy from being called extreme. Do not settle for slowly eroding the false right of privacy that courts have recognized in the United States as the basis for abortion on demand by only legislating restrictions like parental consent, greater regulation of clinics, and outlawing the most heinous and infanticidal abortion methods. The faithful and the Church must stand for the morally-prevailing right to life in all cases and in all circumstances.

This message has been impressed upon us in the words of the great and Venerable Pope John Paul II to the bishops of the Church in 1991:
In the context of the numerous and violent attacks against human life today, especially when it is weakest and most defenseless, statistical data point to a veritable "slaughter of the innocents" on a worldwide scale. A source of particular concern, however, is the fact that people's moral conscience appears frighteningly confused and they find it increasingly difficult to perceive the clear and definite distinction between good and evil in matters concerning the fundamental value of human life.

However serious and disturbing the phenomenon of the widespread destruction of so many human lives, either in the womb or in old age, no less serious and disturbing is the blunting of the moral sensitivity of people's consciences . . . [I]t seems more urgent than ever that we should forcefully reaffirm our common teaching, based on sacred Scripture and tradition, with regard to the inviolability of innocent human life.

The church intends not only to reaffirm the right to life — the violation of which is an offense against the human person and against God the Creator and Father, the loving source of all life — but she also intends to devote herself ever more fully to concrete defense and promotion of this right. The church feels called to this by her Lord. From Christ she receives the "Gospel of life" and feels responsible for its proclamation to every creature. Even at the price of going against the trend, she must proclaim that Gospel courageously and fearlessly, in word and deed, to individuals, peoples and states.

All of us, as pastors of the Lord's flock, have a grave responsibility to promote respect for human life in our dioceses. In addition to making public declarations at every opportunity, we must exercise particular vigilance with regard to the teaching being given in our seminaries and in Catholic schools and universities. As pastors we must be watchful in ensuring that practices followed in Catholic hospitals and clinics are fully consonant with the nature of such institutions. As our means permit, we must also support projects such as those which seek to offer practical help to women or families experiencing difficulties or to assist the suffering and especially the dying. Moreover, we must encourage scientific reflection and legislative or political initiatives which would counter the prevalent "death mentality."
(Venerable Pope John Paul II, Letter to all the Bishops on the principle of the intangibility of human life, 19 May 1991.)

Bishops of Florida and everywhere, we the faithful implore you, be strong in your advocacy for the protection of life in the public sphere. Provide moral leadership on the issues of abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, abortifacient contraceptives, and the death penalty. Preach the Gospel of life—the saving message of Christ that is sent to be victim for the innocent and most vulnerable. Stand strongly and firmly for life!

IMAGE: The logo of the Florida Catholic Conference.

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