Let me preface this post by saying that I have met many people at Georgia Right to Life over the years and have never walked away from those meetings doubting for one moment their dedication to the cause of life or the honesty and spirit in which they seek to advance their agenda. In everything that I say following this statement my confusion is one of tactics and not one of a personal nature. Also, this post represents my personal opinion and is not representative of any institution or organization with whom I am affiliated either professionally or personally.
I recently attended a meeting with Mike Griffin who has worked this past Georgia congressional legislative session as the Legislative Director of Georgia Right to Life. That is particularly important because this past session was when Georgia Right to Life spearheaded the campaign to pass House Resolution 536 otherwise known as the Personhood Resolution or The Human Life Amendment. You can read their own material on this resolution here, but in brief the resolution says that all human beings are persons from fertilization through death and that all considerations and rights afforded to persons ought to extend to all those human beings not currently protected under Georgia law.
This particular meeting was to discuss why this resolution failed to advance and ultimately died in committee without coming to the floor for an up or down vote. Mr. Griffin gave 4 reasons to explain:
1 – The Republicans were not unified on this issue.
2 – Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson was against the resolution.
3 – The resolution was sent to an unfriendly committee that was certain to bury it. (Judiciary)
4 – Pro-lifers were not unified on this issue.
Everything I am about to write here I said to Mr. Griffin at the meeting, so I am not sniping at him or Georgia Right to Life. If we look at those four reasons as given by GRTL I think we can sort them out a little more easily. Issue 3 is a byproduct of issue 2. The House Speaker was against the resolution and so he made certain that it was placed in an unfriendly committee. That means there are now three major issues that undermined the resolution. The House Speaker was working against it, the Republicans were not unified, and the pro-lifers were not unified.
But are these really three separate issues? Let’s set aside the House Speaker and whether or not his resistance on this issue was foreseeable and focus on issues 1 and 4 on our original list. Are all Republicans passionately pro-life? Of course not, and even some of the Republicans that are pro-life in sentiment do not support restrictions on abortion in the cases of rape and incest. Do I agree with their position? Again, of course not, but I am aware of these dynamics and understand that politicians respond to their own consciences and external pressure. The less external pressure applied on any given issue the more you are dependent upon their consciences to influence them to vote pro-life.
I loathe discussing politicians as if they were not pro-lifers by classification. Some of our congressional representatives are passionately pro-life and ought to be included in all discussions as functioning members of the pro-life family. To that point we get to issue 4, the pro-life community was not unified on this issue. You see the obvious connection here on issues 1 and 4. If pro-lifers were not unified then Republicans by definition were not unified. This clearly undermines the external pressure to support the resolution which means that you are relying on the consciences of the representatives to do the majority of the work and you already know that some of them are not sympathetic to your full mission.
So here is my confusion and what I asked Mr. Griffin at this meeting:
Jay : “You have stated the 4 reasons that this resolution failed to pass. I think that issue 3 logically follows issue 2 so unless you or anyone else here objects let’s say there are actually 3 major issues. If you could not foresee House Speaker Richardson’s objections, did you or GRTL have reasons to believe that the pro-life movement or the Republicans would be unified on this resolution?”
Mr. Griffin: “There was a lot of work that went into this prior to my coming on board and I was just here for the legislative session.”
Jay: “I understand that you came on board in the midst of this push, but in GRTL’s evaluation have you heard anyone say that they had good reasons to believe that the Republicans and the pro-life community were unified on this issue?”
Mr. Griffin: “I do not know.”
Jay: “You see the problem here? When I first heard about this resolution a year and a half ago my first response was that it will die in committee because there is no unity on that bill amongst pro-lifers and that means there is zero political pressure for the Republicans to support it against their reservations of conscience. If I could see that then others could as well, which means that 66% of the reasons that you say this resolution failed to advance were problems that were obvious BEFORE pursuing it.”
Mr. Griffin: “So you are saying I was sent on Pickett’s Charge?”
Jay: “Absolutely, I am saying that most of what killed this resolution was known prior to pushing it and that it was an errand that was designed for failure.”
Whether or not I support this resolution on its merits, which I currently do not, the tactical approach is fundamentally flawed. Why intentionally fail? What possible good can that produce? Not to mention all of the political ill will that has been stirred up as a result of this plan. Georgia Right to Life is publishing articles denouncing House Speaker Richardson as a racist eugenicist who wants black babies aborted. That charge is an inflammatory personal attack on Richardson that does not seem likely to persuade him that his position is wrong and win his support for future legislation. In fact, it smacks of the kind of divisive rhetoric and tactics that have so long tainted this discussion.
The Georgia pro-life movement must do better and I hope that Georgia Right to Life as the most visible representative of that movement thinks very hard before setting into motion another plan that relies solely on a miracle from God to succeed.