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The Illusive Human Life Amendment

ve8QAd   |   January 01, 1997

In this post-election time, perhaps it might be wise to look at how the issue of a Human Life Amendment to the US Constitution has been handled and how to do it in the future. First, let’s be very definite. There is no question but that a federal Human Life Amendment, dating from fertilization, is the ultimate goal of the pro-life movement in the United States. There should be no backing away from this.

The key word here, however, is “ultimate”, and the most important thing to be said is to have people thoroughly understand what would be involved in obtaining such an amendment.

Columnist John Leo, to mention a person who has been generally supportive of the pro-life movement, in US News & World Report, Nov. 25, offered a view that has also been expressed in other circles. “This problem was on display during the Republican platform fight over abortion. Abortion opponents couldn’t drop the demand for an amendment without looking as though their commitment was fading. They were locked into a strategy that clearly helped their opponents. Instead of capitalizing on the rising moral objections to abortion, which centers on the barbarity of `partial-birth’ abortions (71 percent disapproval in polls), they had to defend an unlikely amendment that the public strongly resists (only 26 percent approval in polls).”

To respond to this we must review the mechanism of amending the US Constitution – a mechanism that is torturous and difficult. An amendment typically has originated in the US Senate and House. In order to be “reported out”, the same wording must pass both Houses by a two-thirds vote. This alone is a very difficult task, and pro-life strength, to date, has not been sufficient to jump this first hurdle. Then – of crucial importance – the amendment bypasses the President. The President has no veto power. He may well exert leadership, moral persuasion and other political pressure, but he has no direct legislative impact. Accordingly, we should have stated again and again that the opinion or actions of the President regarding such an amendment were basically irrelevant. This was never heard during the last campaign.

But then the big job still lies ahead, for this very same wording must be ratified by three-fourths, or 38, of the 50 states. Ratification is accomplished by majority votes in both Houses of each one of the state legislative bodies. To put it mildly, this is an extremely difficult goal to achieve. All veterans of this battle are only too well aware of the fact that sometimes even one person (a speaker of the House, a chairman of judiciary committee, the president of the Senate, etc.) has enough power to block action in a particular state and to maintain that blockage over a period of several years.

What this boils down to, then, is the simple fact that, in order to achieve these super-majorities in the US House and Senate and among the 50 states, there must be overwhelming support among citizens for the goal of this amendment. This was never mentioned during the past campaign.

Rather, we were led to believe that a Human Life Amendment was something like an act of God that could surprise us all by suddenly being adopted and dropped in the midst of a surprised and unsupportive citizenry. The inference was clear that there was not majority support for this, but that it somehow or other could magically materialize as the law of the land, provoking a “return to the back alley” and worse. Such is obviously a far cry from reality.

In summary, then, a Human Life Amendment from fertilization must remain the ultimate goal of our pro-life movement. We should be honest in saying it’s not going to happen in this century, and maybe not for some years into the next. An absolute prerequisite for it will be a much broader base of support than exists at present. Accordingly, our job is to gird our loins, knuckle down and continue the education and changing of minds that has been slowly happening since Roe vs. Wade.

Our ultimate goal, then, is a Human Life Amendment. Our intermediate goal, a reversal of Roe vs. Wade and return of this decision-making process to each individual state. Our current goals, as long as Roe still stands, must be to do all the things that are permitted us at this time — defunding abortion with our tax dollars, right-to-know laws, parental notification and consent, clinic regulations, forbid partial-birth abortions, etc. First we crawl, then we walk, and someday we will run.

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