By Michael Farris
On January 4, 2011, we were hopeful and excited. We had lead sponsors for the new Parental Rights Amendment (PRA) and anticipated having as many as 160 sponsors in the House soon after its introduction that month.
On January 5, we learned (much to our surprise) that Rep. Fleming of Louisiana had introduced the language as HJR 3. Within 2 days, it already had 17 cosponsors.
Then, just as surprisingly, Rep. Fleming ceased to accept cosponsors. On the surface, the PRA has gone nowhere since.
So what happened that first week of January, and what has been happening since, that the PRA should be so solidly stalled for the last 14 months? We recognize that you have every right to know, but we have had to keep things quiet in the interest of trying amicably to resolve a conflict with another organization.
The week Rep. Fleming introduced HJR 3, an organization contacted several key members of Congress urging them to withhold support of the Parental Rights Amendment. They charged that the Amendment would “pose a serious threat to pro-life interests” as it was currently worded. That organization was the National Right to Life Committee, Inc. (NRLC).
Frankly, they caught us somewhat by surprise. Though we’ve been promoting the Amendment since 2007, it wasn’t until December of 2010 that we heard any concerns about the language of our Amendment – and then it was indirectly, and not from NRLC. And we never imagined that anyone would come up with the legal issues they chose to raise.
But we wanted to be responsive rather than reactionary, so we put the Amendment on hold and tried to work with NRLC to find an acceptable solution. Sadly, they insisted that we specifically address “abortion” or “unborn children” in the language, a move that everyone we’ve spoken to in Congress agrees would render the Amendment “dead on arrival.” Even though I am 100% pro-life myself (and would be thrilled to accomplish a pro-life objective), I believe that these issues must be resolved distinctly and not tied together.
Even so, to address NRLC’s concerns we sought outside counsel on the question: Could the PRA as worded be used, as NRLC charged, to empower parents of a pregnant teen to force their daughter to abort her child? (This, we learned from NRLC, is the heart of their argument.)
We went first to former Attorney General Edwin Meese, an impeccable legal expert known also for his pro-life stance. His analysis, available here, points out that the PRA accurately reflects the longstanding traditional view of parental rights. Since that standard did not allow parents to force abortions on their unwilling daughters between the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 and the Troxel decision in 2000, neither will it do so under the PRA.
When NRLC was not persuaded, we called on arguably the foremost pro-life legal expert in the country, Professor Robert George of Princeton University. Were we still missing something NRLC had not? Prof. George studied the matter and delivered his own opinion,available here. His conclusion, like our own, was that the existing language of the Parental Rights Amendment in no way weighs on the matter of abortion, and cannot reasonably be used to promote abortion as NRLC has charged. (Neither can it be used to prevent abortion; the PRA is abortion-neutral.)
We also checked with other pro-life groups to see if they saw a threat in our language. Everyone else agreed: the PRA as written does not touch on abortion. As a result, other pro-life organizations remain neutral to the Amendment – they have seen no need to join NRLC’s opposition.
Still NRLC persisted, and we have spent months trying to resolve the matter with them.
Sadly, NRLC has caused such delays before. When I championed the popular Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the 1990’s, NRLC stood alone among conservative groups in applying their energies to its defeat. Their efforts did not work then – RFRA was overwhelmingly adopted by bipartisan votes in Congress a few months later – and we must be sure they do not work now, either.
Yes, we have finally reached an impasse. Should we wait for NRLC to be satisfied, we will simply never advance the PRA. But that is not an option.
So, as much as we dislike the idea of contention, especially with an organization which so clearly should be an ally, the time has come to move the PRA forward once again.This will not be easy or convenient, but it is the right thing to do.
Nor are we alone in the battle. Although many members of Congress have concerns raised by this debate, many others stand with us unwaveringly. They have researched the issue, considered the legal arguments, and remain convinced that the Parental Rights Amendment can and must be secured (and will not harm the pro-life cause).