Judie Brown

The Personhood Movement: Internal Battles Go Public: Part 2

This is the second post in a RWW series on the reemergence of the fetal personhood movement and what it means for the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

Part 1: The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes From And What It Means For The Future Of Choice
Part 3: The Personhood Movement: Undermining Roe In The Courts
Part 4: The Personhood Movement: Regrouping After Defeat

As proponents of the “personhood” strategy to end legal abortion like to remind those who will listen, the original goal of the anti-abortion rights movement after Roe v. Wade was to pass a constitutional amendment overturning the decision. And one possible amendment — along with a dubious statutory alternative  — would have done so by defining “personhood” as starting at conception.

In the 1970s and 1980s, dozens of anti-Roe “Human Life Amendments” were introduced in Congress, containing a variety of language. Only one made it to an up-or-down vote in Congress: the “Hatch-Eagleton Amendment,” which would have simply gutted Roe by stating, “A right to abortion is not secured by this Constitution.” In June of 1983, the amendment fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment, garnering just 49 yes votes.

But there was another strategy for amending the Constitution to reverse Roe, one that rather than just returning to the states the power to regulate abortion would have overturned Roe by declaring that fetuses are "persons" protected under the Constitution. In 1976, one such amendment was put up for a test vote in the Senate, garnering only 40 votes in support.

The language of these amendments was a matter of bitter internal debate among anti-abortion rights groups. One draft amendment formulated by the National Right to Life Committee in 1974, known as the NRLC Amendment, would have declared that the word "person" in the 14th and 5th Amendments "applies to all human beings irrespective of age, health, function, or condition of dependency, including their unborn offspring at every stage of their biological development," but included a specific exemption for "medical procedures required to prevent the death of the mother."  

Some members of NRLC’s budding coalition thought the amendment didn’t go far enough to prohibit abortion, arguing that the “life of the mother” exception was too broad. Two founding members of NRLC, Judie and Paul Brown, had left the group because they perceived it as too willing to compromise and founded their own anti-choice group, the American Life League (ALL) and helped to establish the radical abortion “rescue” movement. In 1979, ALL wrote its own amendment, nicknamed the “Paramount Amendment,” which would have erased all abortion exceptions by declaring, “The paramount right to life is vested in each human being from the moment of fertilization without regard to age, health, or condition of dependency.”

Faced with a splintering movement, NRLC held months of talks with its fellow anti-abortion groups, hoping to hammer out a Human Life Amendment that they could unify behind. In October of 1981, NRLC announced that “with tears of joy and happiness” it had “solved what formerly appeared to be an irreconcilable difference over a fundamental question: how to allow for just those abortions truly needed to prevent the death of the mother without at the same time making her right to life superior to that of her unborn child.”

NRLC’s new “Unity Amendment,” which was introduced by Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina that December (and which ALL still refused to support), tightened the “life of the mother” exception by adding the stipulation that abortion would be allowed only to “prevent the death of either the pregnant woman or her unborn offspring, as long as such law requires every reasonable effort be made to preserve the life of each.”

All of these amendments failed to get off the ground, as did a novel and controversial legislative approach to achieve the same goal. In 1981, Helms and Sen. Henry Hyde introduced a bill that they claimed could overturn Roe without a constitutional amendment or a new Supreme Court majority, by simply declaring that life begins “at conception.” The effect of the law, the New York Times reported at the time, would be to once again allow “states, if they choose, to prosecute abortion as murder.” President Reagan got behind the strategy, but legal scholars called the bill unconstitutional. NRLC and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops continued to favor the constitutional amendment strategy, doubting that the Helms-Hyde bill would hold up in the courts.

By that time, however, it became clear that a constitutional amendment and the Helms-Hyde personhood bill weren’t going anywhere in Congress, and proponents had already started focusing on other strategies to turn back the tide on abortion rights.

In 1975, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops had developed a plan to turn every diocese into an anti-choice political machine and to use its existing infrastructure to set up an office in every congressional district. The bishops’ plan included a four-pronged legislative strategy, which continues to guide the anti-choice movement today:

(a) Passage of a constitutional amendment providing protection for the unborn child to the maximum degree possible.

(b) Passage of federal and state laws and adoption of administrative policies that will restrict the practice of abortion as much as possible.

(c) Continual research into and refinement and precise interpretation of Roe and Doe and subsequent court decisions.

(d) Support for legislation that provides alternatives to abortion.

In other words: fight for an amendment to undo Roe, but at the same time work through the courts and legislatures to make it harder for women to access legal abortion. While Roe would remain the law of the land, women would not be able to actually exercise their rights.

Part of this strategy involved targeting public funding for abortions. Frederick Jaffe, Barbara Lindheim and Philip Lee explained in their 1981 book "Abortion Politics":

The new strategy was outlined by RTL [Right to Life] leader Randy Engel, who urged restrictive riders on “any and all federal legislation related directly or indirectly to health,” in order to keep the abortion issue visible and build support. She argued that the efforts to win interim legislation would provide antiabortion workers with political experience, would educate the public, and would force members of Congress to go on record one way or the other. Not least important, she added, this strategy would require the forces supporting abortion rights to expend time, effort and resources in opposing riders.

One of the early victories of this strategy was the 1976 passage of the Hyde Amendment, a rider to the health and human services spending bill that prohibited Medicaid from funding abortions for low-income women. The Hyde Amendment was a victory, but it provoked yet more squabbling within the anti-abortion rights movement.

When it was first passed, the Hyde Amendment contained one exception: for abortions that could save the life of a “clearly endangered” pregnant woman. But because it was attached to a spending bill, the Hyde Amendment had to be renewed annually. The next year, after a lengthy legislative deadlock, Congress kept the exception for saving a woman’s life and added additional exceptions for ensuring a woman’s long-term health and for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

The 1977 compromise allowing abortion funding for rape and incest survivors — which has been modified several times since then — was a setback for anti-choice hardliners, but the anti-abortion rights movmement's leaders continue to celebrate the Hyde Amendment’s repeated renewal. In 2013, on the amendment’s anniversary, National Right to Life crowed that “over one million people are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment.”

But Daniel Becker, a longtime personhood activist and founder of the new Personhood Alliance, sees it differently. “The Hyde Amendment,” Becker wrote in his 2011 book on the personhood concept, “damaged the very fabric of our mission. No longer would the lofty rhetoric of ‘sanctity of all human life’ and ‘the personhood of the unborn’ be embodied in a strategy to achieve those protections. The prolife movement had a seat at the political table, but contented itself with crumbs.”

In 2007, the anti-choice movement achieved another seeming victory that was divisive in its own ranks. The Supreme Court, which now included George W. Bush appointees John Roberts and Samuel Alito, reversed a previous decision and upheld the 2003 ban on a specific procedure that the anti-choice movement had labeled “partial birth abortion.”

Linda Greenhouse wrote in the New York Times that the decision, Gonzales v. Carhart, was a “vindication” of the anti-choice movement’s strategy of pursuing a “partial birth” ban after the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey made a more sweeping victory look unfeasible: “By identifying the… procedure and giving it the provocative label ‘partial-birth abortion,’ the movement turned the public focus of the abortion debate from the rights of women to the fate of fetuses.”

As with the congressional fight over abortion coverage in Medicaid, abortion rights opponents hoped to use the debate over so-called “partial birth” abortion, an exceedingly rare procedure, to keep attention on their efforts to end legal abortion entirely.

But not everybody in the anti-choice movement was thrilled. In fact, the decision that was widely seen as a victory for the anti-choice movement brought into the public eye a long-simmering split in the movement.

Six weeks after Gonzales was handed down, a coalition of anti-abortion groups, including the Colorado chapter of National Right to Life, took out a full-page ad in newspapers around the country attacking Focus on the Family founder James Dobson for supporting the ruling.

One Denver pastor in the group, Bob Enyart, accused mainstream pro-life groups of fundraising off a strategy that “has no authority to prevent a single abortion” because other procedures could be used in place of the banned operation. Colorado Right to Life President Brian Rohrbough told the Washington Post, “What happened in the abortion world is that groups like National Right to Life, they're really a wing of the Republican Party, and they're not geared to push for personhood for an unborn child — they're geared to getting Republicans elected. So we're seeing these ridiculous laws like the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban put forward, and then we're deceived about what they really do."

As the Post noted, NRLC’s detractors started referring to the group as the “pro-life industry” — a term intentionally reminiscent of the anti-choice movement’s “abortion industry” epithet for abortion providers, implying that those groups had sold out and cared more about their fundraising than their mission. (Several years later, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia was using similar rhetoric to question the group’s motives.)

A week later, leaders of Colorado Right to Life confronted the board of NRLC at its annual meeting, attacking its “immoral and failed anti-abortion strategy.” Enyart told the board, in a speech secretly recorded by Colorado Right to Life:

We’ve provided cover to pro-choice politicians, even Democrats, who would say, ‘I’m not an extremist, I supported the partial-birth abortion ban.’ We wasted 15 years while 20 million kids — 20 million kids — have died. We’ve spent a quarter of a billion dollars as an industry for a ban that does not have the authority to save one life. You guys are worried about what’s growing in Colorado. I’ll tell you what’s growing in Washington, D.C. It’s called the abortion weed. Child-killing regulations — that’s what National Right to Life is really good at — child-killing regulations prune the abortion weed and sanction its root.

National Right to Life promptly voted to kick the Colorado group out of the organization. Colorado Right to Life then hired an Abraham Lincoln impersonator to accost conference-goers with a revised version of the Gettysburg Address: "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal...no exceptions!"

It was around this time that the “personhood” strategy began to see a national reemergence in the public eye, and along with it a legal theory that had long been dismissed even by leaders in the anti-choice movement.

The next post in this series will look at the debate within the anti-choice movement on how to best confront Roe v. Wade in the courts.

Right Wing Leftovers - 4/4/14

  • FRC's Tony Perkins was on hand as Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a new Arizona-like "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" into law during a private ceremony.
  • Don Feder lays out the "10 Pillars of Patriotism."
  • Judie Brown, founder of American Life League, is outraged that President Obama gave a rosary blessed by the Pope to Nancy Pelosi: "I'm horrified, because as a Catholic, I think it's sacrilegious for someone like Pelosi – who is allegedly a Catholic – to accept anything from a pro-abortion president, but specifically when it is a rosary. It's a sacrilege for the president to have given it to anybody or to have accepted it in the first place. He has no faith."
  • You have been warned: "Without Revival, Our Civilization Will Become Like Sodom and Gomorrah."
  • Finally, Stuart Shepard blames groups like PFAW for an incident in which a little girl was allegedly told that she could not pray before lunch, even though the entire thing was false and ginned up by Todd Starnes.

American Life League: Excommunicate Catholic Democrats for Being Under 'Demonic Deceit'

American Life League founder Judie Brown says that the Roman Catholic Church must drive out pro-choice and pro-gay equality Catholics from the church because they are under “demonic deceit.”

She argues that Catholic Democrats such as the late Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius advocate “anti-Christian” positions such as the decriminalization of abortion and “anti-family militant homosexuality and the destruction of marriage.”

“As the faithful watch the accelerated destruction of morality in America and the Henry the VIII style tactics of the attempted destruction of Catholicism in America by Obama and his ‘Catholic’ drones, one wonders where most of America’s bishops are,” Brown laments, “Why have these high-profile destructive Catholics not been publically rebuked?”

This nation’s moral decline is astounding not only because it has been a relatively swift slide, but more importantly because Catholics have taken leading roles in bringing about the decline.

Until the time of his death, Ted Kennedy was, for years, the most influential U.S. politician advocating an anti-Christian moral culture in America. While doing so he experienced good personal relations, if not admiration, from many American Catholic prelates.

Catholic vice president Joe Biden first took public office in 1972. Since the decriminalization of abortion in 1973, Mr. Biden has supported every major effort to protect and expand abortion in America. Most recently Mr. Biden has become a proponent of the destruction of the covenant of marriage by redefining it to suit the winds of the day which favor so-called same-sex marriage.

Nancy Pelosi, Catholic congresswoman and a graduate of Catholic Trinity Washington University, has been a consistently fierce opponent of life. She has worked doggedly to expand the “right” to abortion in America and to enshrine contraception and sterilization as the force de jure on America’s employers—including the Church. She is also a staunch advocate of forcing the acceptance of anti-family militant homosexuality and the destruction of marriage as “human rights” in America.

Catholic Kathleen Sebelius, as the head of Health and Human Services, is singularly responsible for wreaking upon the American Catholic faithful her Planned Parenthood “HHS” mandate that dictates that all employers pay for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraception for their employees. Kathleen Sebelius is also a graduate of Catholic Trinity Washington University.

As the faithful watch the accelerated destruction of morality in America and the Henry the VIII style tactics of the attempted destruction of Catholicism in America by Obama and his “Catholic” drones, one wonders where most of America’s bishops are.

Why have these high-profile destructive Catholics not been publically rebuked? In fact, why did this not happen years or even decades ago? To cut right to the heart of the matter, why haven’t each of these hypocrites been publically and unequivocally excommunicated?

This near total absence of effective rebuke and call to accountability from the shepherds has created a perception that “American Catholics” are free to support intrinsic evils as “civil rights” because Catholic teachings, in their view, are subjective and arbitrary.

How many millions of people have bought into this demonic deceit and, in the process, jeopardized their souls? And where are the bishops who should risk life and limb in the defense of our Church? Why haven’t they, in a united fashion, rebuked the deceivers and championed Christ and His truth at all costs?

With only a few exceptions, they are hardly to be found.



They have far too long allowed deception and deceit without consequence and at great cost to the faithful. Now the “Catholics” who have perpetrated great public scandal and harm are looking to devour the weak shepherds and their flocks through mandates, dictates, and the total deconstruction of morality in America.

This dire situation reminds me of the biblical account in the Gospel of Mark when Christ confronts an evil spirit that has possessed a man. He commands the spirit to depart, which it does with great violence and screeching. Witnessing this, Christ’s disciples ask why they could not drive out the demon. Christ responds: “This kind can only be driven out by prayer and fasting.”

I believe the current situation in America falls into the same category. A demon of despair and compromise has afflicted a majority of our Catholic bishops, and in response faithful Catholics must pray and fast.

Therefore, I am encouraging every faithful Catholic to pray and fast for our bishops. Pray that God raises up more heroic souls who will help defend and reclaim the truth of Christ through decisive action.

Pray that each bishop will be touched by the Holy Spirit, on fire with a renewal of commitment to Christ and an active desire to abandon everything else in order to defend Christ and His Church from sacrilege—even unto death if that be God’s will.
Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious