Taking ‘personhood’ back

Taking ‘personhood’ back

Here is an article Fr. Frank wrote about ‘personhood.’ An issue that has grabbed more traction in recent days. Specifically, Mississippi’s Amendment 26. Pastor Walter Hoye of Personhood USA has been working in California with the same goal as the Mississippi amendment. My friend Walter is a humble leading voice in the Personhood Movement!

I recently did an awareness ad to support the Personhood message. In it, I noted that:

In America we protect the eggs of certain animals but we don’t protect our own unborn children. There’s something wrong with that.

Fr. Frank is right. Let’s start with protecting the obvious. The approximately 3,700 human people who are being killed daily by abortion are little people, little human beings. They are “persons” just as you and I are “persons” and should be protected by law.

Fr. Frank Pavone | Nov 2, 2011 3:29 PM

Pavone writes for On Faith as part of our expert roundtable on the Mississippi personhood initiative, a constitutional referendum on whether or not to call a fertilized human egg a ‘person,’ thus giving it legal rights and protection. Read Colleen Carroll Campbell of EWTN , who writes, Personhood begins when life begins, and Frances Kissling, former head of Catholics for Choice, who asks Does Mississippi really respect life?.

The first challenge in the debate over “personhood” initiatives for human life in its earliest stages is to actually engage the issue, rather than reactively dismiss it with labels like “extreme.”

First, this is not a dispute about when the life of an individual human being starts. That’s settled scientifically.

The widely used medical textbook The Developing Human, Clinically Oriented Embryology states at page 2 that “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being….” At page 18 this theme is repeated: “Human development begins at fertilization….” (6th Edition, Moore, Persaud, Saunders, 1998).

Nor is this a dispute about the state imposing a religious or philosophical view. After all, your life and mine are not protected because of some religious or philosophical belief that others are required to have about us. More accurately, the law protects us precisely in spite of the beliefs of others who, in their own worldview, may not value our lives.

Nor is this about condemning those who have abortions. My ministry, and that of many other pro-life groups, actively reach out with compassion to bring alternatives to abortion and to bring forgiveness and healing to those who have had abortions.

The question at hand is whether the law will protect every human being as a legal person.

The 14th amendment to the Constitution states in part, “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The fact that the law does not protect children in the womb from abortion is rooted in the words of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, “the word person as used in the Fourteenth Amendment does not include the unborn.”

Ironically, eight months before Roe vs. Wade, personhood was also discussed in relation to protecting the environment. In the decision, Sierra Club vs. Morton , Justice Douglas argued the following words in his dissent:

“The ordinary corporation is a “person” for purposes of the adjudicatory process. So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life…With all respect, the problem is to make certain that the inanimate objects, which are the very core of America’s beauty, have spokesmen before they are destroyed…”

Eight months later, he ruled with the majority in Roe vs. Wade that “the word person does not include the unborn.”

There is a stunning arbitrariness to this decision, and a stunning implication about the power of the government. To support Roe vs. Wade is not merely to allow a medical procedure. It is to acknowledge that the government has the power to say who is a person and who is not. Who, then, is to limit the groups to whom it is applied? This is what makes “personhood” such an important public policy issue.

Some object because of the unenforceability of protecting new human beings who may be destroyed by various forms of birth control that prevent implantation. Here medicine and law need to work together in a difficult arena to figure out how to protect human life.

But let’s start with the obvious. Arms and legs of children in the womb throughout pregnancy are being ripped off each day by abortion. Will we persist in the fantasy that these are not human persons who should enjoy equal protection? And indeed, both medicine and law are moving in the direction of recognizing the status of the unborn more clearly.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *