Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fordham should rescind its Ethics award to Justice Breyer

By Brendan O'Morchoe

Every year, Fordham University Law, through their Stein Center for Law and Ethics, presents the prestigious Fordham-Stein Ethics prize. According to its charter, the prize recognizes an individual who "exemplifies outstanding standards of professional conduct, promotes the advancement of justice, and brings credit to the profession by emphasizing in the public mind the contributions of lawyers to our society and to our democratic system of government." This year, the prize will be given to Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer.

However, Justice Breyer is a long-time supporter of abortion rights. In 2000, he wrote the majority opinion in Stenberg v. Carhart. In stating “this Court…has determined and then redetermined that the Constitution offers basic protection to the woman’s right to choose,” he struck down a Nebraska state law banning late-term, or partial-birth, abortions, where a physician partially delivers the baby, kills it, then completes the delivery.

There are many legal and ethical objections to this case, especially on the basis of federalism and the morality of abortion. These are compounded by the fact that a Catholic, Jesuit school is awarding Justice Breyer an ethics award. In my opinion, no person who supports abortion should be awarded an ethics prize of any kind, much less from an institution that is “guided by its Catholic and Jesuit traditions,” as Fordham University’s mission statement proclaims.

The Catholic Church has long since spoken out against abortion. The Catechism, or teaching, of the Catholic Church states that “since the first century, the Church has affirmed that” any abortion or cooperation therein, constitutes a “grave offense” against “moral law.” In 2004, the United States Catholic Bishops stated that “the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

New York Archbishop Edward Cardinal Egan has said, of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, a pro-choice proponent: “Anyone who dares to defend that [children in the womb] may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.”

In a 2004 interview, Avery Cardinal Dulles SJ, the Laurence J. McGinley professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University, stated that abortion is not just a “Church” issue but is “governed by the natural law of God, which is binding upon all human beings. The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights, since a person deprived of life has no other rights.”

The awarding of the Fordham-Stein Ethics prize to Justice Breyer is a clear violation of Fordham University’s mission statement and guiding principles. It is immoral and in direct conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The decision to give this award to Justice Breyer is inconsistent with the award’s purpose of recognizing the “positive contributions of the legal profession to American society.” Fr. Joseph McShane and Fordham University must rescind this award to maintain the ethical and moral standards that they preach.

*Note: To sign a petition urging Fordham to rescind this award, please visit

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