The article written by Mr. Farris contains numerous misstatements, which we may address in detail at a later date. Suffice it to say, for the moment, that Mr. Farris provides only a crude caricature of the scope of NRLC’s actual concerns regarding the current language of the PRA — concerns that are shared by a number of key pro-life leaders Congress. We are attaching a letter sent by NRLC to members of the House of Representatives that outlines the actual nature of NRLC’s concerns; the letter is signed by three veteran pro-life attorneys, in addition to myself.
As the NRLC letter explains, “We do not quarrel with a desire to reinforce a legal presumption that responsibility for the protecting and nurturing of a child rests primarily with the parents. Yet, NRLC believes that each child has an independent, intrinsic right to life, and in cases in which a parent or parents disregard that right, by choice or by neglect, the parent’s right to decide must be overridden and the child’s right to life protected by others – most often, by government actors, such as courts and law enforcement personnel. Cases in which parents disregard the right to life of their own child, while not the norm, regrettably are far from rare. Indeed, abortion itself, in most cases, may be regarded as a circumstance in which one or both parents initiate, or at least consent to, the violation of the right to life of an unborn child.”
The letter goes on to discuss three areas — and this is not an exhaustive list — in which the PRA, as currently worded, could have the unintended effect of providing a powerful new legal weapon to “bad parents” — those being, cases involving handicapped newborns whose lives are deemed burdensome (“Baby Does”), human embryos created through laboratory techniques such as in vitro fertilization, and parents who seek to coerce their minor daughters to submit to abortions. The memoranda cited by Mr. Farris deal in a cursory fashion or not at all with the first two issues, and with respect to the third, the memoranda engage in rather evasive and circular argument that does not squarely consider the powerful implications of the language that the PRA proposes to put into the U.S. Constitution.
We are also enclosing a response letter that NRLC received from Congressman John Fleming (R-La.), who is the chief sponsor of the Parental Rights Amendment in the House of Representatives, who wrote in part, “Consequently I agree with the concerns you raised . . .”
Amending the U.S. Constitution is an undertaking of the gravest consequence. NRLC recognizes the positive goals that the PRA is intended to achieve, but those goals must be achieved without giving powerful new legal weapons to persons (including judges) who do not share our determination to protect the right to life of each innocent human person.
We are not seeking to hijack the PRA by incorporating language that would directly protect unborn children. Rather, our goal is to ensure that the PRA does no harm with respect to protection of the right to life.
We believe that this goal is achievable. Indeed, during the current Congress, various parties who are concerned with resolving this issue have proposed three different solutions to the problem. Two of these have involved inserting brief language in the PRA to affirmatively prevent applications of the PRA that would undermine the independent right to life of the child. Mr. Farris ultimately rejected both of those proposals. After that, a prominent pro-life lawmaker proposed a third revision that did NOT involve inserting any reference to “abortion” or the “unborn child,” but that also would have fully resolved NRLC’s concerns — but this proposal, too, has been deemed unacceptable by Mr. Farris. NRLC remains open to other ideas for solutions, but we continue to be opposed to the PRA in its original form for the reasons that we have enunciated.
We are talking about permanent changes to the U.S. Constitution; these issues cannot be dismissed by wishful thinking, circular arguments, or appeals to authorities who are not squarely addressing the real issues at stake.
It should be obvious that unless the concerns of pro-life lawmakers regarding these issues are fully resolved, there is no chance of the PRA achieving the required two-thirds level of support in either house of Congress. It is our hope that Mr. Farris will work with us, and with key pro-life Members of Congress who share our concerns, to constructively achieve a pro-life resolution to this matter.
Douglas Johnson is the Legislative Director for the National Right to Life Committee