Time for a family discussion. The personhood debate has been a searing one, and I must confess that I tend to come down on the side of the personhood amendments. Folks have written to me from both sides of the aisle on this one, and I feel somewhat like a dazed and confused fish out of water. I’ll throw out my observations and take my lumps like a big boy. I ask but one favor…
To those disappointed with the bishops, I ask that we stick to the facts and keep the tone civil. They are the Apostolic Successors, and as St. Paul enjoins us, we must love them because of their office. We can fight like hell at the same time, as families will do, but I respect their office and will not permit disrespect here.
So, that said, let me pick a bone with my beloved bishops. I have read their position, that they support personhood in principle, but that prudential judgement makes them pass on backing this legislative movement. The fear is that a personhood amendment might be overturned in the courts, leading to a reaffirmation of Roe, and threatening the extant pro-life legislative victories that were hard-fought and hard won.
I don’t get that reasoning, and sincerely welcome a lawyer to explain the mechanics that would bring about the implosion the bishops fear.
As I see it, a reaffirmation of Roe will last as long as the pro-Roe majority on the Court; a see-saw battle that I expect to rage for decades to come. But how does an affirmation of a law already in force destroy our pro-life legislative victories that have been won while Roe has been the law of the land? How is it that these laws have passed in the shadow of Roe, but placing an exclamation point after Roe would present such an existential threat to us?
I simply don’t see that.
Next is the argument that personhood may not be the best strategy for defeating abortion. Perhaps. But this, I think, is a form of myopia that comes from focusing on the single issue before oneself and not being able to see clearly the other issues beyond that one issue.
Personhood encompasses all of the life spectrum and speaks to the issue of one’s fundamental human identity, dignity, and standing under the law. I think we make a colossal error when we speak of personhood only in terms of abortion. Buck v. Bell has never been overturned to my knowledge, and I don’t think it a stretch to say that we’ll see efforts at some not-too-distant point to forcibly sterilize the mentally handicapped. With autism being diagnosed in 1:112 children and the expense in treating these children bankrupting school districts, sending property taxes through the roof, do the math.
Then there is the rapidly accelerating pace and scope of euthanasia in Belgium and the Netherlands, among others in Europe. The mentally ill are now being euthanized without their knowledge or consent. It’s getting frightening. How long can we look at these things from the safety of our shores and not be affected? We already have states with physician-assisted suicide, which is how euthanasia gains a toe-hold.
State-run healthcare in Oregon comes with letters to advanced cancer patients denying life-extending drugs and offering physician-assisted suicide instead.
Abortion. Compulsory sterilization. Euthanasia.
Personhood covers them all. While we dither on the front end of the life spectrum, a wildfire is growing out of control on the other end of the life spectrum.
Pro-life had better mean more than just anti-abortion, and while one needs to pick one’s battles carefully and focus to be effective, the bishops as a body do not have the luxury of myopia.
Finally, the voices that say:
“The time isn’t right”
“Perhaps some day”
“It might be a costly battle”
“We can’t win that fight, so let’s not try”
“There are other priorities”
All sound exactly like the voices of reason that tried to assuage the abolitionists of their righteous determination, and like those who pleaded with ‘Negros’ and ‘Coloreds’ to bear their lack of equality with stoic acceptance during the decades before the Civil Rights Movement. But our Black brothers and sisters taught us well that justice delayed is justice denied.
In the personhood fight, it isn’t just the pre-born babies we’re fighting for, but ourselves, our handicapped, our sick, our elderly.
There seems to be an unhealthy dose of myopia on both sides of this issue. If we aren’t careful, it is a myopia that will prevent us from seeing the chains waiting for us all down the line.