Aborting His Career

His name is Joseph Moylan, and he served as a juvenile court judge in Nebraska for 21 years.Highly respected as fair-minded, Moylan was retained by the voters three times. But a few years ago, the Nebraska legislature passed a law that ended Judge Moylan's career. The law required that parents be notified before an underage daughter undergoes an abortion. The law also provided for what's called "judicial bypass." A pregnant teenager who does not want to tell her parents may have a hearing before a judge, who determines whether the girl is mature enough to give informed consent on her own. If the judge finds that she is mature, he must authorize a physician to perform the abortion. If he finds she is not mature, then he must decide himself whether an abortion is in her best interest. In either case, the judge must make a decision that directly influences whether an abortion will take place. As Judge Moylan put it in The Human Life Review, "The judge [becomes] a primary participant in putting to death an innocent human being." That was a role Judge Moylan realized he simply could not play. Moylan, you see, recognizes that abortion is morally wrong. What's more, the new requirements would contradict his entire professional career. Moylan had been, after all, a juvenile court judge. He'd spent 21 years protecting small human lives. But the new law required him to authorize the destruction of human life. Moylan considered the option of simply refusing to hear abortion cases, but that would violate the Code of Judicial Ethics. And if he did hear cases and refused to authorize abortion, his ruling could be reversed by the state Supreme Court, which could order him to authorize an abortion. So Judge Moylan did the only thing his conscience would permit: When the first abortion case appeared on his docket, he resigned his judgeship. When news of the judge's resignation hit the front page of the local newspaper, public reaction was overwhelming. Hundreds of people called and wrote to congratulate him. Parents and police officers, pastors and teachers, even children said they were inspired by his courage and integrity. As one priest put it, the judge's brave decision put him in the same league as physicians living in Holland under the Nazis, who refused to cooperate with the Nazi eugenics program. In his book True Heroism, Dick Keyes defines a hero as someone who exhibits moral excellence, and inspires us to admiration and emulation. Moral excellence means refusing to be compromised by the world around us or even administering or obeying unjust laws. That's a standard Judge Moylan easily meets. Today we live in a culture that all too often makes heroes out of sports and entertainment figures that have plenty of notoriety but often very little character. Let's make certain our own kids understand the definition of a real hero: It's someone like Judge Moylan, who is willing to defend what is right, even at great personal cost.


Chuck Colson


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