Prudential Puzzler: When does life begin? (In Colorado, that is)
Despite all the wayward threads this election season, there have been some substantial and useful discussions here on Catholic faith and public life, in particular on the employment of prudential judgments–the lifeblood of politics. That said, a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Colorado offers an interesting story line, in that it seeks to define a ”person” as ”any human being from the moment of fertilization,” with all the constitutional rights that confers.
Sounds like a pro-lifer’s dream. Except the Catholic hierarchy of the state is not backing it, the anti-abortion governor (Bill Ritter, a Catholic) is against it, and national pro-life groups aren’t supporting it either. This AP story is the best overview I’ve found. Apparently the concern is much like that of the NRA with the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Second Amendment (which went their way–phew!), namely, that passing this amendment might provoke an up-or-down decision on the legality of abortion. A June statement from the Colorado bishops explains their thinking, or their strategy, you might say.
“Unfortunately, even if this year’s personhood amendment is passed in Colorado, lower federal courts interpreting this amendment will be required to apply the permissive 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is also likely that the Supreme Court, given its current composition, will either decline to review such a case, effectively killing the state amendment, or worse, actively reaffirm the mistaken jurisprudence of. While the Church respects those promoting this personhood amendment, the Catholic Bishops of Colorado decline to support its passage because it does not provide a realistic opportunity for ending or even reducing abortions in Colorado. Constructive alternatives to reduce abortions and advance the ultimate objective of ending abortion, however, do exist at the state level.”
And earlier this month Archbishop Chaput of Denver released a statement (PDF) chiding Ritter over remarks on the personhood question. But it did little (for me) to clarify the church’s thinking here, or why the hierarchy’s prudential (political) savvy in this case (if indeed this is the best move) is not applicable elsewhere. For example, overturning Roe v. Wade under the current climate of opinion and lack of pregnancy support could very likely lead to a stronger affirmation of abortion rights. (Such was the spur to the dreaded FOCA.)
In any case, I’d be interested in thoughts on the prudential and political merits here, from those in the know, or those in Colorado who may have better insights from up close. Which is my way of saying, let’s try to keep the demonizing to a minimum.