Friday, May 9, 2008

Georgia Right to Life and HR536 [Jay]

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.


  1. Jeff,

    It is my understanding that the move to push this legislation this year as well as the charges against Glenn were both rooted in the same purpose. That purpose being to establish a plumb line, a standard of truth that cannot be crossed. In my mind, it is not the role of GRTL to play politics on any issue. Rather, it is to stand up on behalf of human life. Whether through legislation, or by holding Georgia leaders accountable for their expressed ideologies, GRTL's activities should not be dictated by pragmatism. The battlefield is much bigger than these political games. GRTL has the responsibility to effect a change in culture and the only way to accomplish that is by declaring the truth and then holding the line regardless of apparent success or failure. Your insights may be correct, but your perspective is limited.

  2. And that would be "Jay" not "Jeff".

    Sorry. :)

  3. Jay--
    Great piece and I'm delighted you posted this. You are spot on, my friend.

    Pumpkin--In politics, it's not easy to dice out the prgamatic/political from the moral. Indeed, sometimes the categories overlapp each other.

    For example, suppose a right to life group draws a line in the sand and proposes a law banning all abortions. Suppose further a state like Georgia passes such a bill. Within one hour, the bill is enjoined by the federal Courts and declared unconstitutional. All the money spend promoting the bill goes for nothing, as no lives are saved and now, thanks to pro-lifers failing to count votes on the federal bench, yet another layer of case law is racked up against us. Oh, and did I mention pro-lifers get to pay all the attorney fees, which pads the pockets of pro-abortionists?

    I would say that moral vision minus political calculation equals more dead babies.

    Isn't that something we should think about, morally?

  4. You are right SK... The stakes are high. My problem is that I feel we have let the enemy establish the rules. In so doing, we play their game and are happy with the crumbs that we win.

    I want to see people rising above that, owning that the truth of the value of human life is a true truth, non-negotiable and unwavering.

    Everything you have said could have and did apply to Slavery in the US as well as the Civil Rights movement. It took the Wilberforces and MLKs to stand for a truth regardless of the cost, regardless of the political stakes, regardless of the temptation to accept the crumbs.

    Perhaps Georgia passing a law that rattles some cages, may become the Rosa Parks that sparks a revolution.

    We will never know unless we stop thanking them for their concessions and demand that they recognize an obvious truth.

    Regarding the further loss of life, is it possible that 30 years of incrementalism has killed 50mm babies? Has our failure to unashamedly proclaim truth stifled a cultural heart change on the issues of life?

  5. Pumpkin,
    You are making my point citing Wilberforce, Lincoln, and MLK. First, Wilberforce and his allies were incremtalists, doing what could be done given the political realities they faced at the time. As I am sure you know, they didn't eliminate slavery with one broad stroke nor could they. How are pro-lifers any different? Second, Lincoln, like Wilberforce, also worked incrementally. The Emancipation Proclamation didn't end slavery outright, it only declared slaves in Southern states free. Linclon wasn't compromising or settling for scraps, he did what he could insofar as possible at the time. Third, you are right about MLK boldly proclaiming the truth, but so has the pro-life movement. The problem isn't that we're shrinking from the truth about the humannity of the unborn or the inhumanity of abortion, it's that the federal courts have foreclosed (for now--until the essential findings of Roe and Doe are scrapped) on any possibility of strong legislation restricting abortion. Surely you know this.

    So, let me put the question to you: How, exactly, do you want pro-life lawmakers to proceeed given the current legal realities? Please give me specifics, not vague generalities. Then give evidence to show you have the votes on the federal courts to carry out your plan.

    Finally, your implied claim (couched as a question) that incremental legislation has cost 50million unborn lives is wildly unsubstantiated. What's your evidence for it?

  6. Pumpkin,

    The charges raised against the character of Glenn Richardson are based on hearsay. Someone told someone at GRTL that Richardson said that and when confronted he admitted to saying something like that. Hearsay is not even admissible as testimonial evidence in a court of law is it? Even if true, GRTL calls into question its own motives by leveling the charge against Richardson at the same time as telling people that they see Richardson as one of the 3 major reasons for their most recent and very public failure.

    I have talked to enough people who work at the capitol to know that GRTL has not helped their reputation in the house with HR536. At the meeting I attended a whole slew of people were thrown under the bus on this one including Republicans, incrementalists, pastors who did not speak out enough for GRTL's liking and the Catholic church to name a few. This does not sound like the end of a productive principled stand that helped establish a plum line.

    GRTL is not a huge and wealthy entity that can afford to swing and miss too often. My point is that even if you thought HR536 was a good idea, this particular approach was so fraught with mission critical flaws that it is very difficult for me to understand why it was pursued in this manner.

    As to the question about incrementalism being responsible for 50 million deaths, you will get a separate post concerning that claim. Mr. Griffin made a similar comment at the meeting and my desire not to hijack his forum with senseless bickering motivated me to swallow my intense distaste for so reckless a claim. I will soon rectify that.

    Thank you for being willing to engage this discussion. This is the type of dialogue that ought ot have happened with GRTL before this move.


  7. Jay/SK,

    In my first post I spoke of perspective, allow me to return to that for a moment.

    Are we discussing the best political strategy for getting a piece of legislation on the desk of the governor, or are we talking about the fight for the hearts and minds of the American people?

    My perspective is this. The second logically precedes the first. In our democratic system of government, the highest level of appeal is to the American people.

    Jay, we have legal abortions in this nation for one reason. The American people want them. Not the legislators, not the judges, not even the supreme court. The people want it, and so it is. Therefore, it follows that in order to significantly alter the current legal realities we must appeal to the hearts of the American people.

    One way or another, the people of this nation have allowed 50mm babies to be killed. Speaking of perspective, that is more human life than was taken in all of the German holocaust, Rwandan, Cambodian and Balkan genocides combined X 2.

    My hat is off to the people who have spent years fighting in smoke filled back rooms, struggling to protect the innocent. I am in no way demeaning that effort. What I am saying is that the numbers speak for themselves, we cannot continue with a strategy that has a casualty rate of 50mm.

    What is ultimately needed is for the people of Georgia to hold the legislators feet to the fire. It cannot be the mission of GRTL to pander to the egos of the legislators. All they can do is plainly speak truth and illuminate any people or ideas which deviate from that truth. The truth is that all human life has value and must be protected.

  8. Pumpkin,

    Your argument continues to work against the tactics of GRTL. Please tell me how HR536 and the recent campaign to get it to the floor moved the hearts of the people?

    Most of the people at my church, which is an outspokenly pro-life church, did not have a clue what HR536. The participants at this meeting seemed to backhandedly blame pastors for not doing their work for them on this.

    No hearts and minds were changed as far as I can see, no legislation or resolutions advanced out of committee, no ground work appears to have been laid for the next advancement, and a hostile relationship with the Republican leadership is becoming more hostile. How bad does this defeat have to be before we admit bad tactics?

    Georgia Right to Life is a good organization with good people and a magnificent cause. Does that mean that we can not look at them and say this last move was a bad idea. At the very minimum it was terrible application of a good idea.

    Scott has issued a direct request. What do you intend to put in the place of incrementalism and how do you intend to make it work? Specifics are needed for this response. I reject the idea that incrementalism has existed in some vacuum such that all of the abortions since 1973 in the United States can be attributed.

    God bless,

  9. Jay,

    As I see it, HR536 was GRTL's effort to clearly and unashamedly raise the standard of "Life" in the State of Georgia. I do not believe that you or I can say with any certainty that this campaign had no effect of the people of this State. Again, if one woman's refusal to yield her seat during the civil rights movement pushed that effort over the edge, how can I say that HR536 was a failure? I give GRTL credit for a valiant first effort.

    I am not one to cast blame on an organization who took a truth that desperately needed to be spoken and boldly proclaimed it through the means available to them. Could it have been better coordinated? Could more effort have gone into taking this bold message to every church and community in the state? Yes, but who is to blame? This is where opposition to this bill from the pastors and, importantly, the catholic church, seriously comes into the picture. What would this picture have looked like if the full pro-life movement (at least the Christians) had been behind this legislation? It is not an issue of pastors/catholic church simply not supporting the effort, they were purposefully opposed and antagonistic to HR536. I was present at the sub-committee hearing when the representative from the catholic church stood and voiced the official catholic position of opposition to HR536 before the committee members and all present. I was listening online when the chairman of that committee used that opposition as one of his reasons for tabling the bill . I was deeply disturbed by this proclamation. How can any "Life" affirming organization object to legislation as simple as the following?

    "The rights of every person shall be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. The right to life is the paramount and most fundamental right of a person.

    With respect to the fundamental and inalienable rights of all persons guaranteed in this Constitution, the word 'person' applies to all human beings, irrespective of age, race, sex, health, function, or condition of dependency, including unborn children at every state of their biological development, including fertilization."

    I personally do not back handedly blame. I am openly and deeply distressed by this opposition.

    You spoke truthfully when you said that the Republican leadership is more hostile than ever. I do not view that as a negative. Their hostility is a natural expression of their guilty hearts. We can no longer segregate faith from politics. Ideologies have consequences on policy. I expect my legislators to apply their beliefs to the policies they enact, anything else is dishonest or irrational.

    Repeating what I said in my last post, I greatly value the efforts made by those who have strenuously labored to pass pro-life laws in this state. To answer your question, what do I intend to put in the place of incrementalism? I support any legislation that is boldly, faithful and consistent to the standards of truth as clearly expressed in God's Word. For further elaboration on this thought I can refer you to my wife's blog post here:

    I recognize that this is not the specific/detailed political stratagem that you are asking for. However, my strategy would be to uphold this blazing standard of truth before the people of this state, and demand adherence to it. God makes no bones about the value of human life, and neither should we.

  10. full link here:

  11. Thank you for sharing your feelings, pumpkin. But you are right: You've yet to present one shred of evidence for any workable, specific plan whatsoever. Nor have you made even a modest attempt to back up your implied claim that incrementalism is responsible for 50 million unborn deaths. Pardon me for saying it so bluntly, but it's difficult to take you seriously when you make these wild charges and then refuse to substantiate them.

    A simple retraction would do wonders for your case.

  12. Ouch...

    I will first say that I also appreciate the dialog but I will make this my last post. I feel that I have relayed at least the spirit of the thoughts I was attempting to express.

    I am sorry that I was not willing to delve into the "specifics" that you were asking for... that was never the intention of my posts. I intentionally steered away from that as it could quickly have digressed into bickering... of which unfortunately the blog/forum medium is this notorious for doing. I do not claim to have a perfectly thought out plan of action. It would take many discussions with many people to develop such a plan. My intention was to express the thought that even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, there is a time and place for sticking to principle.

    I thought I had cleared up the 50mm comment... apparently not, so I will try again.

    First, that line was a thought/question I sincerely had and was intended to stimulate debate on the possibility.

    In reviewing my earlier post, I do feel that I would have been more accurate to my intentions to have queried whether incrementalism had "resulted" in 50mm babies killed. The fact is, that the people of this nation (non pro-life), as a culture, have allowed, permitted, tolerated or even physically killed around 50mm babies. A second fact is that incrementalism has been the dominant pro-life strategy for at least the last 10-20 years. Would the number of abortions have been less or even stopped had we on principle refused to dilute our message by faithfully taking an uncompromising position on pro-life legislation? I do not know. I could not know. I do believe that we have allowed them to set the rules and have been playing their game. The fact of the matter is that the rules were set by God and we should adhere to His rules. That is really all that I intended to say by the comment.


All comments are moderated. We reject all comments containing obscenity. We reserve the right to reject any and all comments that are considered inappropriate or off-topic without explanation.