MINOT, NORTH DAKOTA —Rep. Dan Ruby (R-Minot, N.D.) introduced
a bill (HB 1572) in the North Dakota House of Representatives that
defined “individual, person, or human being” as “any
organism with the genome of homo sapiens.” The intent of the
bill was to clarify personhood under the state constitution. The bill
was passed by the House and moved to the Senate.
Four days before the Senate hearing on the bill, North Dakota’s
two Catholic Bishops, Paul Zipfel of Bismarck and Samuel Aquila of
Fargo, called a news conference to announce they could not support
the bill as written. They offered amendments that gutted the bill in
its entirety — striking every word of the original bill, including
the operative word “person.”
Neither Bishop nor staff member contacted Rep. Ruby to discuss any
concerns prior to the news conference. Neither testified at the House
hearing. At the news conference, they stated, “We have directed
the North Dakota Catholic Conference to draft amendments that would
preserve the intent of HB 1572 while eliminating unnecessary problems.” Rep.
Ruby’s repeated calls to Bishop Zipfel went unanswered.
The intent of Rep. Ruby’s bill was to respond to Justice Blackmun’s
acknowledgment in Roe v. Wade that the U.S. constitution did not define “person.” This
was the pivotal basis on which that decision concluded that there was
no recognizable life issue. The ruling determined that, since “life” was
unknown, the liberty interest of the woman to decide how to deal with
her pregnancy must be paramount.
In short, there was no “person” to protect. The Justice
noted, however, that if “personhood is established, the appellant’s
case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’s right to life would
then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment (14th).”
If Rep. Ruby’s bill were to become law, then the question posed
by Justice Blackmun would be at issue; the Supreme Court would have
a chance to decide whether state sovereignty, relative to the protection
of persons, would be upheld. In the event the Court were to decide
in the affirmative, each state would be free to legislate as it sees
fit, relative to the protection of persons.
Rep. Ruby’s bill has put that question before the U.S. Supreme
Court for the first time.
The Bishops stated their intent was to, “Make the bill more
a statement of legislative intent to guide legal interpretation rather
than a mandate to revise application of existing laws.”
The reality is that Bishop Zipfel opposes anything that would reinstate
North Dakota’s abortion laws prior to Roe. He has repeatedly
opposed bills that would potentially challenge Roe. He believes that
women should never be held legally liable for procuring abortions and
that the repeal of Roe would do just that in North Dakota.
Bishop Zipfel has used his office and the North Dakota Catholic Conference
to gut HB 1572. While he claims his wishes to “preserve the intent
of HB 1572,” he does no such thing. The Bishops totally eliminated
every word of the bill, including the critical word “person,” and
replaced them with 218 words, many of which the courts have rejected.
While Bishop Zipfel and the North Dakota Catholic Conference use
the right rhetoric and claim they wish to provide, “a direct
challenge to Roe v. Wade and its progeny,” their actions speak
louder than their words. They propose to gut a bill that poses one
simple question to the Supreme Court: In the absence of a U.S. Constitutional
definition of “person,” can a state define “person”?
They replace it with confusion and ambiguity, and they leave out the
Why didn’t the Bishops introduce their own bill if they believe
they know how to challenge Roe? Why are they challenging and gutting
HB 1572 after it has passed the House? Why have they refused to talk
with the sponsor of HB 1572? Their actions challenging the bill may
well ensure its failure.
For those who wonder why abortion, after 36 years, is still taking
almost 1.5 million lives each year in the U.S., the Bishops’ actions
in North Dakota help to answer that question.
See this column at Right Side News.
A Voice from Fly-Over
A Voice from Fly-Over Country is copyright © 2009 by Robert
L. Hale and the Fitzgerald Griffin
All rights reserved.
Robert L. Hale received his J.D. in law from Gonzaga University Law
School in Spokane, Washington. He is founder and director of a non-profit
public interest law firm. For more than three decades he has been involved
in drafting proposed laws and counseling elected officials in ways
to remove burdensome and unnecessary rules and regulations.
See a complete biographical sketch.
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