By Eric Giunta
September 29, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Florida pro-life activists suffered a major setback last week in their efforts to garner support for a Personhood Amendment, which would enshrine the right to life of every human being into their state constitution.
In their fight against the proposed amendment, the state's pro-abortion lobby is receiving indirect support from some unexpected quarters: the chanceries of all nine bishops who direct the Florida Catholic Conference.
The Conference, which serves as the official public policy voice of the Florida bishops, released an email alert Friday afternoon, alerting supporters that, “although the bishops of Florida clearly share the desire for our state laws to recognize all life from its very beginning to natural end, after careful consideration and deliberation with legal counsel, the bishops do not support this current amendment effort.”
The same email noted that signature collection would not take place in any parish or diocesan entity in the state.
The same correspondence included a link to a more thorough statement by the bishops, which may be accessed on the Conference website. The statement, dated September 19, affirms the bishops' collective commitment to “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.”
However, the statement continues, “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.”
The bishops first note the unlikelihood of such an amendment passing, given Florida law's stipulation that constitutional amendments be approved by at least 60% of voters. Furthermore, the federal courts would almost certainly strike down such an amendment as unconstitutional, and the bishops express fear that, should the case be heard by the United States Supreme Court (which is presently dominated by pro-Roe justices) it might well “lead to a reaffirmation of Roe.”
The bishops go on to reaffirm their view “that it will be more prudent to pursue incremental measures that add to existing protections in law and help change hearts and minds.”
In an interview with LifeSiteNews (LSN), Shaun Kenney, executive director of American Life League (ALL), stated that Florida personhood organizers were “disappointed, but undaunted” by the memorandum.
“Planned Parenthood committed over $3 million opposing personhood in Colorado,” said Kenney. “While those advising the bishops argue that state personhood amendments will not hold up in federal courts, if state personhood amendments aren't legally viable, Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby wouldn't be committing the millions of dollars in resources opposing it.”
Dr. Mike McCarron, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, elaborated on the bishops' reasoning, telling LSN in an interview: “Without question, extensive energy and money would be spent and false hopes would be raised by this personhood amendment effort. I say this with true respect for those attempting it.”
McCarron added, “If Roe were reaffirmed now it would not only set back the prolife movement but it would make its eventual overturning even more difficult, or worse, enshrine into the law of the land a federal right to privacy, complicating the situation further.”
When asked whether representatives from the American Life League (ALL) and Personhood Florida had had opportunities to present their case to the bishops, McCarron replied, “Yes, ALL visited our office before the media roll-out; organizers connected with Florida Personhood (but not the primary spokespersons) approached us and we spoke with them. They were aware of the bishops' position that they would not actively support it.” McCarron added, however, “The bishops hope to avoid divisive interactions with the organizers of the amendment.”
McCarron made it clear that the differences between the bishops and the amendment organizers were matters of prudential judgment, not principle, and that the bishops did not intend to impose these prudential judgment in a binding way on their Catholic faithful. Hence, pro-life Catholics are still free to support or oppose the amendment.
McCarron added, “The bishops of Colorado, Montana, Georgia, and North Dakota have taken positions substantially the same as the Florida Catholic Conference when personhood debates were underway in their own states.”
Kenney, however, remarked on a singular difference between the position of the Florida Catholic Conference and other state initiatives. “While Colorado and other states are much more permissive about pro-life activities within parishes, the outright ban against organized efforts in Florida is somewhat disheartening for Catholics to see.”
Kenney also responded to the arguments of the bishops about the prudential aspects of the amendment, saying, “While both approaches are committed to prudence, the clear difference between personhood and incrementalist arguments is the alarming tendency of the latter to conflate prudence with proportionalist ethics, accepting a lesser evil to achieve a greater good.
“Almost four decades of false prudence have cost Americans over 51 million innocent lives lost through abortion,” stated Kenney. “Personhood is the best strategy for ending that tragedy.”
Representatives from Personhood Florida were unavailable for comment before this story went to press.