Georgia Bishops Oppose State Human Life Amendment

Last year, Georgia Right to Life introduced a Human Life Amendment (HR 536) in the state legislature that would amend the Georgia constitution to define the human person and protect unborn life from the threat of abortion. Hearings were held last week by the Georgia Judiciary Committee in the midst of swirling controversy over the lack of support from the state’s two Catholic bishops, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory (Atlanta) and Bishop J. Kevin Boland (Savannah).
In the weeks leading up to the hearing, Catholic and Evangelical pro-lifers were split on whether HR 536 was the best anti-abortion strategy at this time. The Georgia Catholic Conference and National Right to Life were on one side, Georgia Right to Life and the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the other.
Brian Rooney, attorney and spokesman for the Thomas More Law Center (which crafted the language of the bill), testified at the hearings; he told me that he was very concerned about the impact of the bishops’ opposition.
“It’s one thing not to support it, and another to oppose it. I think this is going to weaken and divide Georgia’s pro-life community and harm, especially, the relationship between Catholics and Evangelicals.” Sitting next to Rooney in the hearing was the president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, who also testified in favor of the amendment.
Evangelicals who had worked together with Catholics in the pro-life movement for decades could not understand why these two Catholic bishops would not support their effort to overturn Roe v. Wade through a constitutional amendment.
“We thought the time was right to offer this challenge to Roe,” explained Rooney. But the Catholic bishops, and National Right to Life, disagreed. “They want to continue the abortion battle within the framework of Roe; we want to fight it by repealing it.”
Archbishop Gregory explained his position on the amendment:
While we agree with the objective of HR 536 to defend human life at all stages and share the conviction that human life begins at the moment of conception, we have come to the conclusion that the approach taken by HR 536 to amend the state constitution does not provide a realistic opportunity for ending or reducing abortion in Georgia. With admiration and respect for those who have crafted this legislation, we do not support the passage of HR 536.
In addition to this statement, a document written by the Georgia Catholic Conference titled “Reflections on Georgia House Resolution 536” was distributed on February 5 to those participants attending “Catholic Day at the Capitol.” A copy of both statements was mailed to Catholic pro-life leaders on February 11. “Reflections” lists four legal/constitutional concerns and four potentially negative consequences of HR 536.
The Conference argues, for example, that HR 536 will not change the federal constitution on the legality of abortion, and the federal constitution trumps all state constitutions. It points out the odds against the Supreme Court accepting the HR 536 case on appeal. And even if it were accepted, the Conference fears the passage of HR 536 could give the Supreme Court the opportunity to “reaffirm the right to abortion yet one more time.” These reasons are also among those given by National Right to Life for opposing the amendment.
“The problem with the bishops taking this position,” according to Rooney, “is that it’s being used to label pro-lifers as extremists. This was clear at the hearings where the legislators cited the archbishop’s opposition to the amendment and by the dismissive way they treated those of us testifying for the bill.”
The bishops’ argument against the amendment was used by the chairman of the Judiciary committee, Sen. Edward Lindsay (R), to explaining the tabling of HR536 to his supporters. “They tabled it because it was an election year,” said Rooney. “Georgia Right to Life wanted a vote for the same reason — they wanted to find out who truly was pro-life. The votes were there in the House and the Senate, and 60 percent of Georgia voters would have voted for it, but we couldn’t get it out of committee.”
After Archbishop Gregory announced his opposition to the amendment, the archdiocesan pro-life office sent out “guidelines” to all parish pro-life committees reminding their members that lobbying activities on specific legislation had to be preapproved by the archdiocese: “The Pro-Life Office will communicate with lay leaders when a decision has been made to participate in a public policy effort relating to the life issues.”
I asked Dan Becker, president of Georgia Right to Life and an Evangelical, what impact the bishops’ decision had on his organization. “We had Catholics tell us they had to pull out. They didn’t agree with him but they had to do what their bishop told them to do.” One high-level volunteer — Dr. Sarah Fitzgerald, an expert on embryonic stem cells — “respectfully” resigned after the archbishop’s statement.
Not all Catholic pro-lifers followed the archdiocesan directive, however. Nancy Stith, executive director of Georgia Right to Life, told me that several prominent Catholic leaders had resigned from parish pro-life committees over the bishops’ opposition.
Becker said an “open letter” he had written to the Georgia Catholic bishops was taken down from his Web site because Catholics and Evangelicals in the pro-life community were becoming so divided over the issue. “We have acknowledged the division,” he told me, “but we have tried not to encourage it, that’s why we took the letter down.” That seven-page letter, written with the assistance of a Catholic attorney and member of the Georgia Right to Life board, is a detailed explanation of why they disagree with the prudential decision of the bishops and National Right to Life.
Now that the Human Life Amendment has been tabled, the effort of Georgia Right to Life to overturn Roe v. Wade is over, for now. Similar initiatives are being undertaken elsewhere (Colorado, for instance), and eventually litigation will make its way to the Supreme Court, forcing a reconsideration of Roe before a bench containing new conservative justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
Several Catholic members of the Georgia legislature approached Rooney, asking why the bishops opposed the bill. “They were confused, but I didn’t try to explain the bishops’ position. Instead, I showed them a quote from the 2007 statement of the USCCB on ‘Faithful Citizenship’: ‘The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.'”
Obviously, the opinion of Georgia Right to Life and the Thomas More Law Center differs significantly from the Catholic bishops, Gregory and Boland, on the best tactics for implementing the overall strategy of always opposing abortion. Both sides hope Catholics and Evangelicals, longtime allies in the pro-life movement, will remain united in seeking the end of abortion-on-demand.

Deal W. Hudson


Deal W. Hudson is ​publisher and editor of The Christian Review and the host of "Church and Culture," a weekly two-hour radio show on the Ave Maria Radio Network.​ Formerly publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine for ten years, his articles and comments have been published widely in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report. He has also appeared on TV and radio news shows such as the O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, NBC News, and All Things Considered on National Public Radio. Hudson worked with Karl Rove in coordinating then-Gov. George W. Bush's outreach to Catholic voters in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, President Bush appointed him a member of the official delegation from the United States to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of John Paul II's papacy. Hudson, a former professor of philosophy for 15 years, is the editor and author of eight books. He tells the story of his conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholic in An American Conversion (Crossroad, 2003), and his latest, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, was published in March 2008. He is married to Theresa Carver Hudson, also a Baptist convert, and they have two children, Hannah and Cyprian who was adopted from Romania in 2001.

  • Joseph Sheehy

    These two bishops had no business making a statement on the Georgia Human Life Amendment. It is their job to teach the Catholic Faith. Whether or not this amendment was a good idea is NOT part of the Catholic Faith.

    It is too bad that ANY Catholic pro-lifers were entangled in PARISH pro-life committees, and thus were forced to conform to the bishops’ opinion on the matter. As individual citizens, the bishops are entitled to their opinion, but they abuse their authority whenever they exercise it to promote any proposition other than the contents of the Catholic Faith.

  • David E. Dowd

    I guess we cannot depend on the Georgia Bishops to hear the voice of the unborn.

    Could someone play “The Silent Scream” for them?

    If members of the public raised their voices in the collective numbers of human lives destroyed by abortion and contraception, the bishops would react to the cry of the poor in a heartbeat.

    Here , in a nutshell, is why more Catholics might become active in the pro life movement. May our dear Lord raise more of us up to become voices for the unborn.

    May we be inspired to make use of all the instruments of social communication to love our bishops and invite them to share in the suffering of the unborn.

    For, any of us who have stood on the sidewalk and watched and prayed while people of all cultures march inside the death chambers operated by abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood to destroy their offspring beg our bishops to share the great banquet of our traditional Roman Catholic faith with our spiritually emaciated laypeople so we might grow stronger in the love of Christ!

    Under the mercy,

    David E. Dowd
    Westbrook, Ct.

  • Deal Hudson

    Joseph and David, as I tried to make clear at the beginning and end of the article, the controversy was over tactics not strategy. All parties committed to opposing abortion; they differed on how to do it. Joseph’s point about the bishops just staying out of the matter is interesting — that’s what Brian Rooney would have preferred. But it’s important to keep in mind the bishops and National Right to Life share the same ultimate goals.

  • Pedro

    So if the bishops oppose the means to an end and some think that such means is the thing to do the reasonable conclusion is that the bishops are biggots?


    Well, I guess according to that logic I’m not pro line either.

    I don’t think this country is ready to tackle abortion at the legal level. Bottom line, the fact that we have it available and that so many do it points to where the focus needs to be: evangelize/educate.

    My grandmother had a saying that went something like: customs become laws and laws govern nations. I see a lot of wisdom in that. Lets change the customs so that the laws will follow. That’s exactly how the church was able to affect change before. It’s tried and true.

  • James Minarik

    Of course the bishops are truly committed to ending abortion. And their reasoning in opposing the Georgia bill appears cogent. I would, overall, tend to agree with their reasoning.

    BUT… the bishops’ position in this matter is a purely a political strategy. It has nothing to do with Catholic doctrine or morals. And therefore the bishops have absolutely no authority to impose their personal political strategy on Catholics, either individually or via parish pro-life committees.

    And since their opinion in this matter is purely political, it holds no special status as “Truth.” Thus, that particular political strategy might also be wrong!

  • Ender

    “It is not the church’s task to set forth specific political solutions – and even less to propose a single solution as the acceptable one – to temporal questions that God has left to the free and responsible judgment of each person.”

    Doctrinal note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life
    Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
    2002 Card. Ratzinger

  • Teri Bohlinger

    Deal, I know you just reported the facts as they were presented to you, but I suspect there is more nuance to the story. I’ve learned that when evangelicals are emoted to villify bishops there is something more interesting that underlies.

    Please consider this possible reality in light that we know real Catholics…
    If Catholics are quitting the Evangelical legal machine I suspect it has nothing to do with being Catholic sheep. However Evangelicals are used to tending to that position, villifying bishops, to advocate their “goodness”, and making evil or division or planting suspicion where none exists or is called for. Its what they do; they steal and divide people and property. It is their spiritual charism.

    I truly don’t believe that the bishops made such a firm pronouncement “from the chair”, perhaps an opinion or suggestion, but they couldn’t kick anyone off of anything even if they wanted to. Catholic bishops and Catholic thought doesn’t work that way, not in anything I’ve witnessed. It does however work that way for Protestants and Evangelicals.

    Perhaps this story needs a little more interesting development but no one wants to start name calling and exposing bigotry especially when life hangs in the balance. I take it with a grain of salt.

  • Steve Skojec

    I’m not a huge fan of Archbishop Gregory (don’t know anything about about Bishop Boland) but I honestly believe that what the bishops have done here is a good thing.

    As I began trying to argue in my article last month regarding the March for Life, and as I’ve tried to address more than once on my blog, the pro-life movement needs to renew it’s focus on a methodology that is effective and stop throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks.

    The arguments that the bishops make are not only cogent, I think they should be applauded for making them. Pro-lifers continue to guarantee diminishing returns on their hard work when they fail to recognize what works and what doesn’t in navigating the complex legalities of the abortion issue.

    Getting a case before the Supreme Court is important for the cause only if the case brings something to the table that hasn’t been there before. We need a bulletproof challenge to Roe, and this isn’t it. The fact that they are trying to amend the Georgia constitution has no effect under the overarching federal law. It’s an impotent move designed to get attention from the SCOTUS, which will (if it even hears the case) strike it down resoundingly.

    This further entrenches Roe in precedent and makes life more difficult for Georgian pro-lifers, not less.

    The bishops may need to exercise prudence in their political opinions, but their endorsement was evidently sought in this issue, and they made a good case for why they couldn’t give it. Showing the wisdom and foresight to only support the kind of legislation that can get the job done is, in my opinion, long overdue.

  • David W.

    The idea of attacking the Bishops for not “towing the line” is absurd. What would be more effective? Principled stands are great, but if it hurts the cause more in the long run what good is it? Pro-lifers have worked for decades to cut the legs out from under Roe V. Wade…Prudence is important, and I applaud the Georgia Bishop’s Conference for withholding endorsement of a law which would go down in flames. You don’t attack an Army where its strongest…forcing the issue into the Supreme Court now would as others have pointed out, only deliver us another 5-4 decision REAFFIRMING the right to Kill children in the womb. Then where would the Pro-Life movement be?

  • Steve B.

    Its time for all life loving folks to put aside our petty differences and ask our church leadership to support the Human Life Amendment, HR 536. In talks with a lot of Catholics, I have yet to find one who is against HR 536!

    The Georgia Baptist leadership is supporting HR 536 to its 3600 member churches, and taking a visible stand at the Capitol (Gerald Harris will be lobbying tomorrow- he is the editor of the Christian Index, circulation 50,000- the main Baptist publication in the state).

    Sometime the people in the pews must lead because the shepherds are not. Let’s get it done and protect life in Georgia, come what may. Remember, when the Supreme Court in 1833 ruled that blacks were not fully human under the constitution, the citizens disregarded the ruling, because they knew the truth. Do we know the truth?

  • James Pawlak

    Those bishops continue the pattern set down by others of their ilk in the USA by their example of arrogance in this matter as in their ongoing protection of bishops and other priests who have violated criminal laws. They continue to be divorced from reality and have resigned their moral authority.

  • David W.

    So favoring a more realistic approach to the Abortion fight is resigning their moral authority? Its quite easy to politically grandstand, and use high minded legislation that is doomed to fail to get out the Pro-Life “vote”, but what does it really accomplish? It allows the Abortion lobby to entrench, thats what it does. The Culture of Death, despite inroads the Pro-Life movement has made still dominates. Take the example of Gettysburg…Lee charged the center, and that act wounded the Confederate Army and it never fully recovered. In the face of evil it is easy to allow emotions to conquer good sense. If Abortion is to be ended, there needs to be clear thinking…

  • Steve Skojec

    It’s nice to hear someone else trying to rally people to the cause of common sense. Throwing yourself on their spears isn’t the way to win the battle when you’re outnumbered and outgunned.

    You have to be smarter than that.

  • John Jakubczyk

    Passing a state human life amendment may or may no be “effective” according to comments made in the article, but the first question should be, “could it pass?” And if it could pass, do those in the pro-life community have the wherewithal to shepherd it through the courts?

    One would find it interesting if a state were to take a position (ironically contrary to the position of certain states prior to the War between the States aka the Civil War) that the federal government could NOT prevent it, the state, from protecting human beings in the womb. Sort of a reverse preemption approach.

    Now if the bishops’ opposition is because they think that the citizens would not support such a measure, that is one thing; but to be afraid to challenge it though the courts is another.

    Frankly I am a little concerned that “strategies” only get a groups’ approval it the group came up with the idea. We in the pro-life movement need to be more open toward the fact that the “both/and” approach is a more satisfying means of dealing with what is happening.

    AS for the calls to “rethink” approaches or “develop new ideas,” speaking for myself, I’m game. But i do get a little weary after working all day on something to have someone tell me about a new “guaranteed will end abortion” idea that THEY wand ME to do.
    I am more impressed when they show show me an idea and seek my thoughts, opinions, and at the same time provide a new energy which i can encourage and support.

    After all, and David Dowd knows this only too well, there is so much for all of us to do that we need not be a roadblock to the good work others can accomplish.

    Thus am I concerned about the bishop’s approach to this current situation.

  • Andy

    It’s true; the bishops’ opinions in this matter are not binding as far as morality goes. That being said, I think their lack of support is wise.

    This amendment would most likely be struck down by the SCOTUS, if it even makes it there. That kind of decision would serve only to strengthen abortion in our country. The last thing we need is that.

  • anon

    Steve Skojec wrote: Throwing yourself on their spears isn’t the way to win the battle when you’re outnumbered and outgunned.

    You have to be smarter than that.

    I’m trying to align the above with the witness of the Man who started our religion.

  • Steve Skojec

    The Man who started our religion gave us an instruction in this regard: “Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves.” (Mt. 10:16)

    Christ’s death was paradigmatically redemptive. The death of the Martyrs spilled the blood that nourished the seeds of the Church.

    The death of ill-conceived pro-life legislation that only further retrenches the legality of murdering innocents in legal precedent is neither redemptive nor nourishing.

    In my opinion, it’s rather foolish.

  • Tim

    Teri Bohlinger wrote:
    I truly don’t believe that the bishops made such a firm pronouncement “from the chair”, perhaps an opinion or suggestion, but they couldn’t kick anyone off of anything even if they wanted to. Catholic bishops and Catholic thought doesn’t work that way, not in anything I’ve witnessed. It does however work that way for Protestants and Evangelicals.

    I tend to agree with Teri. As a Catholic I would prefer to defer to the Bishops. They know of what they speak.

  • Ed

    It is interesting that it was these two same bishops who were the only ones in their conference who refused to sign on to a statement indicating that Catholic politicians who advocated abortion should not approach the altar for Communion. Hmmmm…..

  • Ed Mullen

    It could be a symptom of general dissent, fear of repercussions, or reluctance to face anti-life media with cogent, faithful explanations. Or, it could simply be following bad advice.

    Canadian bishops have often spoken out collectively at critical times to frustrate worthy pro-life legislative initiatives, employing an elbow-length organization called COLF (Catholic Organization for Life and Family), spawned by CCCB (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops), thereby distancing it (CCCB) from life and family issues.

    Unfortunately, individual bishops seldom speak out on either side of life issues.

  • Kay Evangelical

    As an evangelical who is a long-time Georgia pro-lifer, I have always admired the strong stands of the Catholic Church. It breaks my heart that this difference of strategy is causing such frustrations among Catholics, and division in our pro-life movmement. I understand it, but surely hope that we will soon be united in defeating the culture of death.

    The upcoming Presidential and Congressional races are so important to change the make-up of the U.S. Supreme Court. Vote wisely! Vote pro-life!

  • PJQ

    The evil that surrounds abortion did not and does not always take big once and for all bullet proof steps in eroding away the moral fabric of our great nation. The Bishops have now spoken out once they need to continue, (even though I think they where wrong here). We had an opportunity to have the Evangelicals take a different look at our Catholic Religion and not be so critical of us in the future; and actually get them to work more with us than against us or see us as part of the enemy. The Bishops here probably due to someone who is a big contributor to the church blew it. Then they sit back and wonder why no one likes them??? I wonder???