By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

SPRINGFIELD – A mentally retarded child “has the same fundamental human rights as a Nobel Prize winner,” declared Princeton University law professor Robert P. George at the annual dinner of Pennsylvanians for Human Life (PHL) held Feb. 28 at Springfield Country Club in Delaware County.

George, a staunch supporter of human life, is most recently known as a drafter and signer of the ecumenical Manhattan Declaration issued last November. The document calls on those who oppose abortion, euthanasia and other moral issues for reasons of conscience not to comply with any laws forcing them to act against their beliefs.

In this, his second appearance at a PHL dinner, his focus was on life issues, especially abortion and embryonic experimentation. He took strong issue with Catholic politicians who consistently vote against Church teaching on life issues, especially former governor of New York Mario Cuomo. He even referred to John F. Kennedy who, during the 1960 presidential campaign, pledged not to let his Catholicism influence his decisions in office if elected.

“President Kennedy thought his religion was such a private matter he wouldn’t even impose it on himself,” George quipped.

Cuomo is most known for his speech in 1984 at Notre Dame in which he defended politicians who, like himself, were personally opposed to abortion but supported a woman’s right to choose it.

More recently, George said, Cuomo has argued Catholics whose religious convictions lead them to oppose abortion should defend the right of those whose own convictions lead them to support abortion; by doing so they are defending their own freedom of religion.

The fallacy of this argument, George said, comes into force immediately if one considers whether the right of a Catholic, Jew or Baptist or member of any faith to reject infanticide, slavery or the exploitation of labor impinges on the rights of others whose religious convictions do not. The example he used was the 19th century banning of slavery in spite of those whose religious convictions accepted it.

“If the principle did not apply to slavery, why would it apply to abortion?” he asked.

George took issue with media, including major newspapers that have criticized bishops who have denied holy Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights on the grounds that it erodes the separation of Church and state. These same newspapers, in 1962, warmly praised New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel, who excommunicated public figures who supported school racial segregation. Are the bishops wrong, he wondered, only when they disagree with the editorial position of the newspapers?

“There is a name for anyone who accepts the spiritual authority of bishops,” he said. “They are called Catholics.”

Judging by the applause, this was a sentiment with which the almost 500 people in the room could agree.

About a dozen faculty and students from Princeton accompanied George to the dinner.

“We are starting to make headway with young people,” he said afterwards. “More of them than ever are pro-life. This is the generation of sonography, and they have seen the sonograms of their little brothers and sisters, their first baby picture in the womb, and they even have names for them.”

Even those in college who are not pro-life “realize this is a very powerful argument that needs to be taken seriously,” he said.

Touching on the health care issue now facing Congress, he said, “We should certainly and absolutely be consistent that abortion should not be subsidized by the taxpayers, whether it is under a health care bill or anything else. That compounds the injustice of legal abortion. It makes us all implicit in the practice. Abortion is not health care. A woman is not sick because she is pregnant.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.