A Pro-Choice President Will Never End Abortion


September 19, 2007

As a practical matter, the argument that a pro-choice president will end abortion is far-fetched. Never in American history has a laissez-faire chief executive ended a great moral evil.
Take slavery and de jure racial discrimination. Pro-slavery presidents did not end slavery; it was brought to its conclusion by Abraham Lincoln, who in his 1860 run for president opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Anti-civil rights presidents did not kill Jim Crow; it was killed by Lyndon B. Johnson, who, as senate majority leader in 1957, enacted the first major civil-rights bill in the 20th century.
Yet history is not an infallible guide in politics. An argument could be made that a pro-choice president will end abortion. Such an argument would appeal to the principles of laissez-faire and republicanism, and it would make the following case:
Suppose Rudy Giuliani became president. To appease the cultural conservatives in the Republican Party, Giuliani would appoint “strict constructionist” nominees to the Supreme Court, who, once confirmed, would overturn Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. The issue of abortion would return to the states.
To unify cultural and fiscal conservatives, Giuliani would zero out all federal funding of abortion. The Hyde Amendment would be toughened so that federal Medicaid dollars would not fund abortion under any circumstances; the Mexico City Policy would be preserved (though if the law were overturned, technically the funds would flow to abortion organizations, not so that such organizations could perform abortions). Stem cell funding would be barred, and all bills to fund abortions would be vetoed.
There is no doubt that the scenario outlined above would represent a step toward advancing a culture of life. Yet this scenario would hardly protect small humans from violence.
One reason for this is that many federal laws dealing with abortion have nothing to do with spending taxpayer dollars. As law professor Hadley Arkes pointed out, military hospitals are barred from performing abortions; infants born alive that survive an abortion are recognized as persons under federal law; the National Institutes of Health is prohibited from making use of tissues from fetuses in elective abortions. Would President Giuliani enforce these laws or repeal them? If he stayed true to his principles, he would overturn them. Such steps would not exactly end abortion.
A related, and more important, reason that a republican and laissez-faire Republican president could not end abortion is that he or she fundamentally opposes the right to life. By definition, this president believes that unborn infants do not deserve a fundamental legal protection: the right to be protected from violence. Unborn boys and girls are not viewed as humans with the right to be born; they are sub-human or “non-human persons,” as Ramesh Ponnuru notes.
The consequences of opposing the right to life are immense. Since Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973, 45 million unborn children have been exterminated. The main reason abortion clinics exist and prosper is that unborn infants lack legal protection. As the late Governor Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania wrote, opposition to the right to life begets “the ultimate act of violence, the ultimate exploitation of the weak by the powerful.”
How would a pro-choice president tackle such an industry? Again, if he adhered to his principles, he could not do much. He couldn’t ask Congress to spend money to persuade abortion-minded women to choose crisis pregnancy centers rather than Planned Parenthood. He could sponsor legislation that would impose tighter regulations on abortion clinics, but he could not sponsor a bill to prohibit them.
In short, a pro-choice president could not end abortion.


  • Mark Stricherz

    Mark Stricherz is the author of Why the Democrats Are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People’s Party.

    Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

    Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

    Email subscribe inline (#4)

Join the Conversation

Comments are a benefit for financial supporters of Crisis. If you are a monthly or annual supporter, please login to comment. A Crisis account has been created for you using the email address you used to donate.

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...