Catholics denying that foetuses are people? There’s a reason for that
One thing everyone knows about the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world is that they are very hot on the sin of abortion, and asserting the humanity of unborn foetuses. Which is why it’s caused something of a stir that they’re now arguing in a case going through the courts that the unborn aren’t really people at all.
It’s hard to resist the comical and cynical vision of the church fighting aggressively to protect the unborn, right up to the point where they realise that if everyone agreed with them, it might cost them money. I imagine a priest getting a message from the lawyers in the middle of his sermon, and instantly denying everything he’s been saying. It’s a funny image. But while I have little love for Rome, I don’t think it’s entirely fair.
The church’s legal defence is naturally based on the law as it stands and the prevailing culture; the state is the arbiter of the legal rights and wrongs of different cases, and the church can lose out when their view of personhood differs. They would be expected to pay out if the state found them culpable for something the church finds acceptable, so why should they be expected to ignore the possibilities of a difference of opinion that may favour the church in this case? Is this difference just a one-way street?
Maybe that doesn’t convince you, but the argument that unborn foetuses aren’t people (for want of better terminology) is only one of several that they’re making in their defence of the case. Any decent legal team will be sure to raise any arguments that have a chance of winning the case, even if they’re fairly speculative, as I believe this one is.
Unfortunately for Catholics, “church employs professional legal team” isn’t nearly as grabbing a headline as “church defends case by denying own doctrine”, and it’s possible to cast this as the church denying that a foetus is a person when it becomes inconvenient, which sounds uncomfortably like their own criticism of mothers who have abortions.
It looks to me that the way they’re handling this case is good legal practice, but very bad PR management.
Photo by jessicafm, used under Creative Commons Generic Attribution License 2.0