The Alabama Legislature helped Tom Parker realize his medieval dreams • Wisconsin Examiner

When Alabama Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote a cheerleading concurrence in his colleagues’ decision to effectively end in vitro fertilization in the state, he cited Thomas Aquinas.

Aquinas, as I learned in Father Koterski’s philosophy class, was a Dominican theologian who spent most of his life trying to synthesize Catholic Church teachings with the philosophy of Aristotle. Koterski’s class focused on Aquinas’ thoughts about existence, in particular the idea of being as an act.

But Parker wasn’t writing about essence and existence. He was looking at Aquinas through Parker’s belief (as stated in his opinion) that “human beings bear God’s image from the moment of conception.”

Parker wrote that Aquinas “distinguished human life from other things God made, including nonhuman life, on the ground that man was made in God’s image.” The chief justice also noted Aquinas’ highly original view that murder is bad. All of this factored into Parker’s conclusion that “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who views the destruction of His image as an affront to Himself.”

But the modern Thomas seems to have a more conservative view of what a fertilized human egg is than the medieval one. The theologian, citing Aristotle, wrote that “the fetus is an animal before becoming a man.”

In fact, Aquinas wrote at length in “Summa Contra Gentiles” about how a man couldn’t, uh, transmit a soul during conception.

“The human body, so far as it is in potentiality to the soul, as not yet having one, precedes the soul in time; it is, then, not actually human, but only potentially human,” he wrote.

Conservative Catholics, noting the church does not condone in vitro fertilization, might argue that a friar from the 1200s would not look kindly on abortion. That’s fair, considering that Aquinas, in his “oracular celibacy” (as the historian Barbara Tuchman put it), would not look kindly on a modern woman doing literally anything. (Even Victorian women would be on notice.)

But we’re not talking about abortion. We’re talking about helping childless people have babies.

And whether or not Aquinas would approve of IVF, I wouldn’t use his “Summa Theologica” to understand modern fertility treatments any more than I would use Dante Alighieri to pass a geography quiz on the southern hemisphere. And yet Alabama’s chief justice cites a 750-year-old theology text to dictate health care to the rest of us.

That Parker would take this approach isn’t surprising. The chief justice wants to impose reactionary Christianity on American democracy. Media Matters uncovered a video of an interview with Parker uploaded earlier this month where he told an interviewer that “God created government.”

“The fact we have let it go to the possession of others is heartbreaking for those of us who understand, and we know it is for Him,” he said.

The chief justice would build Zion by destroying reproductive rights. So you might wonder why Parker attacked a procedure that, through 2019, led to the birth of 8 million children.

It’s because Parker’s project isn’t about life. It’s about control. Over women. And over the lawmaking process.

Parker’s colleagues on the court seemed to understand the pain they were about to inflict. Justice Greg Cook, the only dissenter in the ruling, urged the Legislature “to promptly consider these issues to provide certainty to these Alabama parents-to-be and to the medical professionals who are attempting to provide services to them.”

And legislators are trying.

The problem is that Republican lawmakers in 2017 gave the state’s high court a veto over their efforts.

That year, the Legislature passed a constitutional amendment saying that “it is the public policy of this state to ensure the protection of the rights of the unborn child in all manners and measures lawful and appropriate.” Voters approved the measure the following year.

It makes loosening any of Alabama’s draconian reproductive laws very difficult.

Parker knows this. He wrote that the amendment “circumscribes the Legislature’s discretion to determine public policy with regard to unborn life.” The chief justice added that any law “that contravenes the sanctity of unborn life is potentially subject to a constitutional challenge under the Alabama Constitution.”

Sure sounds like the chief justice is inviting another anti-IVF lawsuit, doesn’t it?

Parker also strongly suggested that the court could only accept a law that imposed extremely tight restrictions on IVF, something no pending bill on the procedure has in mind.

To be sure, the chief justice won’t be on the bench for the next IVF battle. At 72, Parker is two years past Alabama’s mandatory retirement age for judges and not seeking re-election this year.

But it’s hard to see how the all-Republican state Supreme Court gets past his reasoning. Justice Jay Mitchell’s majority opinion invited legislative action but also said the 2018 amendment “directly aimed at stopping courts from excluding ‘unborn life’ from legal protection.” Even without Parker, the court still has five justices (including Sarah Stewart, running to become the next chief justice) who fully agree with Mitchell. (Justices Brad Mendheim and William Sellers gave him qualified approval.)

This is the new Thomism. Aquinas saw an ordered world following God through the guidance of the Catholic Church. Parker sees the Alabama Supreme Court taking that role, with the chief justice as interpreter of divine will.

Your views don’t matter. The pain of those wanting children is irrelevant. It’s all about eight judges making the world conform to their tendentious readings of the law.

Even Aquinas might have found this extreme.

“The last end of human life is bliss or happiness,” he wrote. “Consequently the law must needs regard principally the relationship to happiness.”

To the Alabama Supreme Court, that’s a dangerously modern thought.



Alabama Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alabama Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Brian Lyman for questions: [email protected]. Follow Alabama Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2024%2F03%2F04%2Fthe-alabama-legislature-helped-tom-parker-realize-his-medieval-dreams%2F by Brian Lyman

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