Persons

 

Fr. Frank Pavone

 
  7/7/1997
   

The 14th amendment to the Constitution states in part, "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. The fact that the law does not protect children in the womb from abortion is rooted in the words of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, "the word person as used in the Fourteenth Amendment does not include the unborn."

What is less widely known is the decision handed down eight months before Roe vs. Wade, in which personhood was also discussed in relation to protecting the environment. In the decision, Sierra Club vs. Morton, Justice Douglas gave argued in the following words:

The ordinary corporation is a "person" for purposes of the adjudicatory process. So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life...With all respect, the problem is to make certain that the inanimate objects, which are the very core of America's beauty, have spokesmen before they are destroyed...The voice of the inanimate object, therefore, should not be stilled...That is why these environmental issues should be tendered by the inanimate object itself. Then there will be assurances that all of the forms of life which it represents will stand before the court -- the pileated woodpecker as well as the coyote and bear, the lemmings as well as the trout in the streams. Those inarticulate members of the ecological group cannot speak...

 

Eight months later, he ruled with the majority in Roe vs. Wade that "the word person does not include the unborn."

There is a stunning arbitrariness to this decision, and a stunning implication about the power of the government. To support Roe vs. Wade is not merely to allow the existence of the most common surgical procedure in America. It is to acknowledge that the government has the power to say who is a person and who is not. And if the government is to have that say, then who is to limit the groups to whom it is applied?

Supporters of Roe vs. Wade can ask, "Could the government ever declare my teenage daughter to be a non-person? Could it ever say I am not a person?" If the answer is no, then such a person has not understood the full implication of Roe vs. Wade.

Such supporters say the government "should not be involved it the abortion decision." How true! In fact, the government got too involved in it when, in 1973, it presumed to have the power to deprive some of the right to live! The government should indeed back away from the abortion decision by recognizing that it does not have the power to permit the lives of the innocent to be taken.

Those who govern are to govern all the people. All includes the smallest and weakest, the persons yet unborn.