“The Catholic Bishops of Florida believe in the full legal recognition of the right to life of every unborn child and the defense of human life in all its stages, from conception to natural death. For many years, we have worked to promote a human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution. At the same time, we believe that our laws and our state constitution must be changed prudently, giving full consideration to unintended consequences that may result from well intended actions.
“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.”
– The Catholic Bishops of Florida
Bishop Thomas G. Wenski Diocese of Orlando
Archbishop John C. Favalora Archdiocese of Miami
Bishop Victor Galeone Diocese of St. Augustine
Bishop Robert N. Lynch Diocese of St. Petersburg
Bishop Frank J. Dewane Diocese of Venice
Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ Diocese of Pensacola/Tallahassee
Auxiliary Bishop Felipe J. Estévez Archdiocese of Miami
Auxiliary Bishop John G. NoonanArchdiocese of Miami
Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito, JCL Diocese of Palm Beach
Commentary by Jay Rogers:
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 through discussion, debate, teaching, symbolism and active demonstration.
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 applauding 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” of an individual. We can further define that 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 pregancy 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 be 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 intitative 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.
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 to anyone without prior permission.
– Jay Rogers
Commentary by Dr. Pat McEwen:
I am co-sponsor of the PersonhoodFl constitutional amendment drive. I want to assure you that we fully intend to honor the wishes of the Bishops in this area and will not collect petitions on church property BUT that does not mean that good Catholics cannot sign or gather petitions!
I feel the Bishops are wrong here. They are sincere but sincerely wrong. The real danger now ( with the present political climate) is doing nothing!
Yes there is a danger of loss in any effort BUT there have been other failed efforts that have proved a benefit to the pro-life movement. It would be wonderful to think that pro-life bills etc have never lost before in the Supreme Court but they have and we were not any worse off for trying. IF by any chance we were challenged in SCOTUS we have the best chance now with Roberts and Alito on the court. ( It will not get better under Obama – only worse when he gets the chance to appoint more pro-abort judges!!)
The partial Birth Ban suffered many losses before it finally won in the Supreme Court and in the decision SOTUS gave the reasoning that there were many other ways to kill a baby ( my language not theirs!) but although the ban probably did not save one baby’s life (The late term abortionists have many ways of killing a viable baby)it did show Americans some of the horror of abortion! It helped change lives!! That is exactly what other personhood initiatives have done.
In Colorado, where only 9% of the population was pro-life they got 22% of the vote!!! Now that’s changing hearts – they lost but had a wonderful effect. Donations to CPC’s went up – more politicians declared themselves pro-life – abortions went down. They are going back again this year. Maybe they can raise the pro-life count to 40% Now that’s winning while losing! GA tried with a personhood bill – It failed and the resulting increase in Pro-life gains were even greater that in Colorado.
As I have told other members of the Personhood team – The Bishops are not our enemy – they are just sincerely wrong. They have espoused the tactic of incremental attack for years. They believe if they chip away at the mountain ( parental notification etc.) it will fall. The only problem is it’s a mountain not a molehill. This is a David and Goliath situation and only a David-like attack will bring down this giant. Yes we may lose but if we do nothing we have already lost! The Bishops are moving in all good faith but the direction is wrong. They are doing what they have always done and getting the results they have always gotten, 3,300 ( and that is a VERY conservative #!) murdered babies a week in the U.S.! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God used Florida to end this?
Commentary by Mat
If God is with the Bishops on this, may they be blessed for their erudition. As a Roman Catholic, I am sincerely but unsuccessfully trying to understand the Bishops’ reasoning, and to me their position doesn’t even make sense looking from an “incremental” perspective.
The incremental approach “defined” is an approach that focuses on obtaining small gains, and not expect large gains. The idea behind this strategy is to conserve energy and resources for winnable battles. Incremental thinkers and the most absolutist fighters for life are always facing in the same direction.
HOWEVER, this is the first time I’ve seen this incremental approach defined as an approach that actively resists larger gains. The bishops are closing their doors on those who would fight this measure, denying even limited access for those who would self fund petition drives.
The Bishops’ concern for unintended consequences is laudable. But as Pat McEwen points out, we are getting dramatic original results right now from our past action and inaction, so perhaps we need worry a little less about the 4th generation removed consequences if God grants Truth the victory at the ballot box. An original consequence of the Bishops’ statement is that history can now accurately report that the Bishops of Florida do not support the passage of a state amendment that unborn children are people from the moment of conception. It is a mere footnote that their reasons for their position is that they succumbed to fear of failure and to fear of losing some of the small gains made in the past. And who reads footnotes?
As you put it, “We can change the culture, but it must come from the will of the people, not through the courts.”
Commentary by Jay Rogers-
I have a hard time understanding the reasoning of the Catholic Bishops of Florida too. I am tempted to jump to conclusions about their motives, but I will resist that for now.
Let’s just examine their ideas.
It is all based on the idea that reversing Roe v Wade is what is needed to end abortion.
This fails to consider several things.
In 1972, when Chief Justice Warren Burger appointed Harry Blackmun to write the majority opinion on Roe v. Wade it was at first rejected. Blackmun at first argued that a woman had a right to do whatever she pleased with her own body. This was rejected because it did not apply to drugs, public nudity, suicide attempts, and so on. It was too unsophisticated an argument for such a difficult case. Blackmun filed for a reargument and waited for Nixon to fill two vacancies on the nine member court (Roe was originally decided with seven). In October, the court heard rearguments with new appointees Powell and Rehnquist. This time Justice Stewart asked Sarah Weddington if it was critical to her case to say that the 14th amendment did not protect the fetus as a “person.”
He asked: “If it were established that the fetus is a person, within the protection of the 14th amendment, you would have almost an impossible case here, would you not?”
“I would have a very difficult case,” Weddington said.
The defense asked, “Is the life of this unborn fetus paramount over the woman’s right to determine whether or not she shall bear a child? This court has been diligent in protecting the rights of minorities, and, gentleman, we say hat it is a minority, a silent minority, the true silent minority. Who is speaking for these children?”
Weddington responded that her case was not to advocate abortion. It was to advocate that the decision was within the purview of the woman and her doctor and not the state. This has been the pro-choice argument all along — that “choice” is protected by a constitutional right to privacy. Without getting into all the arguments over whether such a “right to privacy” can be established in the US Constitution (I think it cannot), let’s suffice it to say that most Americans are sympathetic to this idea. They are not, however, sympathetic to abortion on demand through all nine months for any reason.
To make a long story short, Blackmun compromised and decided that late term abortion was problematic, but first trimester abortion and up to the time of viability could be protected in certain situations (rape, incest) under the “right to privacy.” The decision said that the states still had a compelling interest to regulate abortion after the time of viability. In effect, it recognized the Personhood of the fetus after viability.
Blackmun stated that “… it must be stressed that the court does not hold that the Constitution [provides] abortion on demand.”
In fact, he wrote in the decision, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”
It’s ironic that pro-choice advocates have used this to argue that we cannot know ever when life begins “because of the wide range of beliefs on this sensitive issue.” But this postmodernist statement leaves open the possibility that we cannot ever make moral judgments about anything. If the vast majority of Americans see it as self-evident that killing a baby in the womb for the sake of convenience is murder, then we can legislate this moral truth into civil law.
The vast majority of Americans believe that the baby is fully human at viability. Yet we have abortion on demand through all nine months. A sizeable majority in at least 34 states (enough to enact a Constitutional Amendment) believes that life begins at conception or sometime in the first six weeks (the time when virtually no elective abortions are performed). Yet we have abortion on demand through all nine months for any reason.
“Personhood” is therefore the right language.
What this also fails to consider is what has happened after Roe.
Roe v. Wade still allowed states to restrict abortion in such a way that even the Catholic Bishops and many “pro-life” groups are not advocating at this time. Doe v. Bolton then extended the right to privacy throughout all nine months. It swept away any notion of Personhood overriding the right to choose. I told Cal Zastrow when he first explained the long term strategy that even if it failed to overturn Roe, it could result in returning the states to a pre-Doe scenario which might eliminate the 95 to 98 percent of abortions, which are provided on demand for the convenience of the mother.
The Supreme Court fiat law had the effect of liberalizing abortion even in the few states that already had the most liberal abortion laws. Even the pro-choice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has written that the Court “went on to fashion a regime blanketing the subject, a set of rules that displaced virtually every state law in force. …… the Roe decision left virtually no state with laws fully conforming to the Court’s delineation of abortion regulation still permissible. Around that extraordinary decision, a well organized and vocal right-to-life movement rallied.”
It’s interesting to note that even one of the most outspoken pro-choice Supreme Court Justices sympathizes with the thinking of the pro-life movement due to the top-down comprehensive enforcement of a policy that she agrees with. It is not impossible that even some of the “liberal activist” justices would side with the idea that the states should decide the issue for themselves. In fact, it would be even more difficult for our pro-abortion opponents to argue that this is a “Republican regime” instituted decision if even one Democrat-appointed Justice recognized the constitutionality of the Amendment — by virtue of the fact that it was decided by the people of one of the 50 states.
“Personhood” is therefore the right language and the correct strategy.
It also fails to consider that the Supreme Court is not the only avenue through which to overturn the effect of Roe.
Essentially, what we want to do is let a majority of the voters or state legislators in 34 states decide when the life of a person begins. It seems on the surface like a random, quixotic campaign to go after the difficult liberal states such as California and Colorado — and the Herculean task of collecting 700,000 or more signatures in a huge state like Florida. But in doing so, we are pressing the antithesis. We are trying to raise the bar, so to speak, in the most difficult states so that when we have our first victory in a state like Mississippi, it will cause a tidal wave of support in more conservative states where it will pass more easily.
All that is needed is a “yes” vote in 34 state legislatures to enact a Personhood Amendment to the US Constitution. Even if this is struck down in one state by the Supreme Court, they can’t resist the two-third majority clause in the Constitution.
“Personhood” is therefore the right language and the correct strategy at the right time.