Missed Opportunity

“He who says A must say B,” political philosopher James Burnham once said. Burnham’s dictum suggests certain undeniable conclusions logically flow from one’s principles. While this sounds simple enough, the ramifications are often deep and perplexing.

© Copyright 2003 Catholic Exchange

James Bemis is an editorial board member and columnist for California Political Review.

Take the pickle North Dakota’s Catholic bishops recently found themselves in, for example. Both North Dakota bishops, Paul Zipfel of Bismarck and Samuel Aquila of Fargo, refused to endorse a bill criminalizing abortion before the state legislature. House Bill 1242 attempted to create a new section of the state criminal code: “A person is guilty of a class AA felony if the person intentionally destroys or terminates the life of a preborn child.” A “preborn child” was defined in the bill as “a human being from the moment of fertilization until the moment of birth.”

Responding to a letter requesting support for the bill, Christopher Dodson, North Dakota Catholic Conference’s Executive Director, stated the bill was unacceptable to the bishops because it holds responsible the woman procuring an abortion. “Criminalizing the woman,” Mr. Dodson explained, “serves no legitimate purpose.”

Dodson indicated that even if the proposed legislation granted legal immunity the mother for killing her child, it still would not pass muster with the bishops because it lacked “a realistic possibility of withstanding constitutional scrutiny.” Later, appearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Bishop Zipfel, who said he also spoke for Bishop Aquila, testified in opposition to the bill.

“I was astounded,” said Peter Crary, an attorney supporting HB 1242, “a representative of the North Dakota Catholic Church would in effect endorse Roe v. Wade by demanding that a mother be accorded legal protection for killing her preborn child.” Roe is the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision creating a constitutional right to abortion.

Crary continued: “If any legislation aimed at protecting the lives of preborn children must have ‘a realistic possibility of withstanding constitutional scrutiny,’ then Roe v. Wade is beyond challenge. I am truly amazed to hear that my own Catholic bishops have made a public policy decision to conform to Roe. I have always been taught as a Catholic that life begins at conception, and to kill a preborn child is murder. What then is objectionable about outlawing murder?”

What is objectionable about it, indeed? As Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” “procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth.” Therefore, says the Pope, “we are dealing with murder.”

Now since, as the Holy Father says, abortion is murder, then certain inevitable conclusions are derived logically. One is that procurement of abortion is a criminal conspiracy to murder a child. All those involved — the abortionist, the Planned Parenthood “counselor,” the father, if he’s a participant — are accessories to murder. Yes, that conspiracy includes the mother.

Tough stuff, no doubt. But anyone serious about eliminating legalized abortion must eventually confront a difficult truth: the ultimate decision to kill is made by the mother. Until that “choice” carries serious legal consequences, we have little hope of staunching the bloodshed.

This isn’t to say that sentencing should be carried out without clemency or compassion, depending on the circumstances. As Shakespeare said, “the quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,” and should do so here. Undoubtedly, many women are badgered, bewildered or beaten into having abortions, facts that must be given serious weight. But none of this changes the underlying truth about abortion: like any other murder, an innocent life has been taken, and someone must be held responsible.

Testifying before legislators, North Dakota’s bishops missed a golden opportunity to take a principled stand in defense of life, and instead wound up siding with abortionists and Planned Parenthood’s grim reapers. (That should have been their first clue.) This is yet another example of the pusillanimity of many in the Catholic hierarchy who seem to live in greater fear of the press than the Pope. Such timidity wins no respect from the Church’s enemies and serves only to demoralize the faithful.

“As a Catholic I am ashamed,” Mr. Crary said. “The North Dakota bishops do give lip service to the protection of innocent life. However, by refusing to challenge the Supreme Court mandate set forth in Roe v. Wade, the bishops have acquiesced to the Culture of Death.”

Despite what North Dakota’s bishops say, any society that valued life would criminalize abortion, same as it criminalizes other forms of killing. It is only our self-induced blindness, the result of 30 years of non-stop “pro-choice” propaganda, which prevents us from seeing that. Criminalizing abortion inescapably means creating criminals out of lawbreakers. This isn’t a matter of cruelty, but of iron logic.

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