Testimony of Bishop Paul A. Zipfel on House Bill 1242

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to address you today concerning House bill 1242.

Allow me to begin by stating unequivocally that my fellow Catholic bishops and myself are completely committed to building a culture of life. This means working to eliminate abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade. It means embracing initiatives that truly further the cause of life. I am happy to say that North Dakota has led the nation in this respect and has what is considered the most pro-life laws in the nation. The work, of course, is not done. Bishop Aquila and I remain determined to work with the people of North Dakota to do what must be done so that no woman would ever feel compelled to have an abortion.

Although I share with some of the supporters of this bill the desire to end abortion, neither Bishop Aquila nor I can embrace this bill as a means to that end.

The central problem with the proposed legislation is the imposition of a criminal punishment on a woman who has an abortion. My fellow bishops, reflecting the guidance of Pope John Paul II, have consistently held that for pastoral, moral, and prudential reasons, the law should not criminalize the woman. In most cases, if not all, she is an abortion's second victim. Our experience as counselors, spiritual advisors, and caregivers to women who have had abortions tells us that the decision to have an abortion is often the result of intense pressure, coercion by others, and a fear-driven attempt at self-preservation -- all in a culture of lies about the choices before her and a society that too often leaves her alone with her “choice.” Criminalizing her only compounds her victimization.

Let me make this clear - abortion is a grave moral wrong. Not every moral wrong, however, demands a corresponding penalty in the civil law. Moreover, civil law must further a legitimate purpose and extend only so far as is necessary to achieve the desired end. Since she is a victim, criminalizing a woman who has had an abortion does not further the interest of justice. To punish the woman as a criminal is unnecessary. It is enough to extend criminal culpability to the abortionist, who is truly the wrongful actor.

To say that a woman who has had an abortion should not be punished in the civil law does not mean that she has acted without fault. Her act is terribly wrong. However, compassion, not a desire to punish, should guide our response to her. We should be mindful of Christ's response to the woman accursed of adultery: "Neither do I condemn you."

It is this spirit that must guide our efforts to build a culture of life. Penalizing the woman is contrary to this spirit. House Bill 1242 is not a pro-life bill as we envision the meaning of "pro life." House Bill 1242 is not a Catholic response to abortion. As an example of our Church's response to abortion, I am providing you with a small handout from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which summarizes the Church call to respect life by reaching out to those who have had abortions. Please take the time to read it.

I realize that this must be a very difficult issue for members of this committee who oppose abortion. We all want abortion to come to an end. However we cannot embrace the proposal recommended in this bill as a virtuous one. It is inconsistent with what it means to respect life. I believe that anyone who is genuinely pro-life can, in good conscience, oppose this bill.