Richmond City Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring

Tragic Intentions Undetected

Over the last few weeks a tragedy has come to light in Richmond. In January, an abortion happened on the watch of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, which is run by the Catholic Diocese of Richmond (one of the two Catholic dioceses that encompass Virginia's Catholic population). Four people who worked for the organization aided a 16-year-old Guatemalan in getting an abortion and in the implantation of a contraceptive device. The four, who were fired, either ignored Catholic teaching on birth control and abortion or were somehow unaware of it (the organization employs non-Catholics). Most appalling was that one of them, who had no legal standing, signed an abortion consent form required from a minor's parent or legal guardian — in direct violation of Virginia law.

The Guatemalan's only legal guardian is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement's Department of Unaccompanied Children's Services. Catholic Charities is one of several organizations that provide care for refuge children under the department's custody. Since Catholic teaching forbids abortion and federal policies prohibit it except in rare situations, the girl should not have been able to secure an abortion.

Quite clearly, a law was broken. But Richmond City Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring looked into this only briefly and determined that although what the former employee did was wrong and illegal, he would not prosecute her because he believes she had no intent.

Since when does ignorance of the law stop at abortion? Or, how about, I swindled that widow's money, but my intent wasn't to make her life miserable, I just wanted to buy myself a new Porsche? There's all sorts of byproducts of committing crimes that don't include intent, but that doesn't excuse prosecution. Ignorance never has. Besides, since when is mind reading part of a prosecutor's required job skills? Isn't the application of the law supposed to be dispassionate?

Not only that, aren't they supposed to keep evidence and suspicions close to the vest? But in interviews with the media in announcing that he would investigate, Mr. Herring basically gifted the former employee a Get Out of Jail Card, as he did in this July 9 Richmond Times-Dispatch article:

Herring said prosecution will depend on his findings. He said he also would consider the intention of the social worker who signed the consent form.

"Let's suppose that a woman in good faith thought it was OK for her to sign the form," he said. "I would not feel comfortable prosecuting. But if she behaved in bad faith, if she tried to use this incident to make a statement, which doesn't make sense considering who she worked for, then I would be considerably less sympathetic."

Regardless of that, did Mr. Herring ask the former employee if he or she thought to check with the Catholic Charities' executive director before executing such a drastic and controversial action? Even if this person wasn't aware of Catholic teaching, even if avoiding the boss' permission is an internal matter (doesn't the absence of such consultation seem strange in such a situation?), wouldn't that give insight into the motivation — i.e., intent — of this person?

Mr. Herring has done a commendable job in his first term — one reason Richmond's crime rate has dropped. He also forcefully testified, as spokesman for the Commonwealth Attorneys' Association, at the Senate Education and Health Committee this past General Assembly regular session in favor of the fetal homicide bill. In fact, he forcefully told the committee if it killed it (which it predictably did), "We will be back in front of you next year." He also is the Herring in Richmond Medical Center vs. Herring, the case in front of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, testing the constitutionality of Virginia's partial birth abortion ban — which means he is the one being sued by the pro-abortionists. So with this background, we are doubly perplexed, and more than disappointed, in Mr. Herring's refusal to pursue this abomination vigorously.

Furthermore, what of the abortionist who willingly accepted this consent form? The man from Mars wouldn't have been that gullible. This person obviously saw an opening to take sad advantage of the situation and did so without hesitation. If one is looking for intent, that's probably the only one applicable in this whole sordid, tragic matter. But apparently, for some, this is the one law where that does not matter. Media reports indicate federal officials also are looking into aspects of this crime. We hope they come to a much different conclusion than Mr. Herring.