THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Personhood and the Ontology of Personalism, Part VIII

Some people have argued that opposition to abortion is a purely religious issue, and that therefore the State can make no laws prohibiting abortion or limiting it any way. If opposition were, in fact, purely a religious issue, that would indeed be the case — at no level, whether local, state, or federal, could any form or branch of government make any law restricting or prohibiting abortion. We are ignoring for the sake of the argument that the State does in fact have the power to make laws restricting or prohibiting religious practices if they cause harm to individuals, groups, or the common good as a whole. This was, in part, the justification for outlawing plural marriage as practiced among some branches of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — "the Mormons."

The point, however, is that if opposition to abortion is a purely religious issue, then support for abortion cannot be a purely civil issue. As a matter of consistency and of common sense, if opposition to abortion is a religious issue, then support for abortion is also a religious issue. Any form of support for abortion by government at any level would necessarily be a violation of the 1st Amendment as it would, in effect, establish a State religion.

No, the only rational approach to the abortion issue is on the basis of civil rights. Why someone opposes or supports abortion is irrelevant, regardless whether someone is a convinced deist who thinks that God has commanded women to have abortions at will, or a devout atheist who believes that the State has no right to make politically-motivated decisions as to who and what constitutes a "person." That being the case, the issue must be handled in the public arena, with both sides accorded equal, not preferential, status and dignity.

Thus, there is currently a movement afoot in a number of states to enact "Personhood Amendments" to their respective constitutions as a prelude to amending the U.S. Constitution to correct the perceived flaws in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. One obvious response, of course, is to point out that, given the proper understanding of the basis and form of the United States government, we don't need to amend the Constitution on this point.

This does not mean that the "Personhood Movement" is useless, wrong-headed, or anything other than a sign that "the people" are becoming sufficiently concerned about the loss of civil rights to organize in social justice and direct their efforts to the reform of the institutions of the common good. This is what Alexis de Tocqueville described as the quintessential characteristic of American life in the 1830s. According to the author of Democracy in America, people did not wait for the State to act, but took matters into their own hands as a matter of course, organized, and addressed social problems by acting directly on the relevant institutions without interference from the State. This sort of thing was so pervasive that de Tocqueville declared that in America the federal government hardly seemed to govern at all.

The mere fact of the Personhood Movement thus suggests — strongly — that there is a growing public perception that something is terribly wrong in how the United States Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution, the second most important founding document of the United States. The most important document, of course, is the Declaration of Independence, which gives context to and justifies the Constitution. It would be a serious mistake for "the powers that be" to conclude that, because (in their opinion) "Personhood Amendments" have little chance of being enacted, the movement can safely be ignored.

If nothing else, the Personhood Movement focuses attention on the way the Supreme Court, in an exercise of what dissenting Justice Byron R. White declared an exercise of "raw judicial power," has apparently pushed some extremely creative reinterpretations onto the Constitution in furtherance of questionable political ends. The Movement alone may be sufficient, without managing to get any state or federal amendments enacted, to cause our nation's leaders to wake up to the fact that something is seriously wrong in their basic understanding of the role of the State. This, in and of itself, may be enough to persuade our leaders to take steps to correct matters.

What needs amendment and correction, then, is not the wording of the Constitution or any Amendment, but the legal philosophy and moral orientation of the justices on the Supreme Court. There is, after all, no guarantee that, in the event a Personhood Amendment is adopted, the U.S. Supreme Court will change its thinking and interpret a new amendment differently from the understanding the Court has already forced on the rather clear wording of the 14th Amendment by ignoring the 9th and 10th Amendments, leaving the situation unchanged.

Is there, however, a way to change the thinking of the Court and reorient its thinking and philosophy to something more consistent with the natural law basis on which the United States was founded?