The right-to-life movement is a failure. Although millions of dollars have been spent on lobbying, marches, and protests since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, millions of women have still had abortions since then. There is no doubt that many abortions have been prevented, but even a round number of how many is almost impossible to estimate. The pro-life movement has failed miserably to persuade women to not have abortions, to educate women on the evils of abortion, to prevent unwanted pregnancies, to convince doctors to not perform abortions, to effectively counsel women with unwanted pregnancies, to impede promiscuity, and to provide sufficient alternatives to pregnant women considering abortion.
Pro-lifers are quick to lay the blame on the Supreme Court, activist federal judges, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, feminists, doctors who perform abortions, the Democratic Party, and liberals – anywhere and anyone but themselves and the women who actually have abortions.
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According to most pro-lifers, the solution to the abortion problem is not persuasion, education, or counseling; it is more centralization of power in the federal government – the same government that, in a vast power grab that did violence to the Constitution, asserted federal supremacy over the states’ abortion laws in the Roe v. Wade decision.
Vance goes on to reiterate Dr. Paul’s proper federalist approach to the life issue, which is, in my opinion, the only sensible political strategy for American pro-lifers. As John Adams famously said, “the very definition of a republic is ‘an empire of laws, and not of men.’ ” No matter how vital the issue, if we fail to honor the framework of law which we hope will support what is right, we cut the legs right out from under any permanent legal protections of the issues we care most about.
Vance continues his summary:
Dr. Paul’s first step in eradicating the plague of abortion from America is a simple one: remove the jurisdiction of the federal courts and the Supreme Court, as the Constitution allows in Article III. This would take only a simple majority vote of both houses of Congress. The self-proclaimed pro-lifers in Congress had their best chance to do this just a few years ago and blew it. Most Republicans in Congress claim to be pro-life; some Democrats in Congress claim to be pro-life. Between the two parties enough votes could have been obtained to restrict the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court when the Republicans controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress – the period from January 20, 2001, to June 5, 2001, and again from January 3, 2003, to January 2, 2007.
After jurisdiction over abortion is returned to the states, pro-lifers can then begin a state-by-state campaign to criminalize abortion. Not only is this strategy much more practical, they would be much more successful in their efforts this way. Authority over criminal law is constitutionally retained by the states. Unfortunately, however, Congress has federalized a host of ordinary street crimes already covered by state criminal codes. The federal criminal code has over 4,000 separate federal offenses relating to actual crimes like arson and carjacking and spurious crimes like moving birds across state lines to engage in fights and interstate transport of unlicensed dentures. These federal laws should all be repealed. More federal criminal laws and more centralization of power in the federal government are the last things we need.
It’s not a question of “looking the other way while innocents are killed” or “passing the buck on the abortion question”; it is a question of the Constitution, the judicial system, federal power, the role of the federal government, our federal system of government, and the nature of our republic.
Pro-lifers foolishly make the mistake of elevating the issue of abortion above all others. A candidate for office who claims to be pro-life can get a pass on just about anything else. Yet, someone can be pro-life and statist to the core, as many pro-lifers no doubt are. If Obama had a change of heart and began supporting the pro-life cause, he would still be a radical leftist unworthy of anyone’s vote or support. I submit to you that I would rather have someone in elective office who was indifferent to the abortion issue, yet was a strict constitutionalist and advocate of liberty and limited government, than the typical pro-life, red-state fascist.
I have no doubt that these statements will be unpopular with many pro-lifers. But as we re-evaluate what the last 37 years of political maneuvering on the abortion issue has gained us, it would be impossible to realistically ascribe any overarching success to our cause. While we’ve seen shifts in public sentiment (which seem often to correspond inversely to the perceived pro or anti-abortion stance of the party in power) we have not made substantial, lasting gains. While we’ve experienced many small victories, we’ve also encountered numerous setbacks. Let me be absolutely clear – the babies saved by the efforts of America’s pro-lifers are in no way inconsequential – but while we save hundreds, or even thousands, millions continue to die. The big picture needs to be re-focused.
Perhaps it’s time to consider that a big reason our efforts have failed is that our government was constructed in such a way to be resistant to our approach. Our Constitution demands that the abortion issue be addressed by the states, not the federal government – regardless of what happened at the Supreme Court. The possibility of making real progress at the state level is very real – it admits the kind of grassroots effort that can truly make a difference. And legislation has been introduced by men like Dr. Paul which would make state-level abortion legislation a reality, IF he could find co-sponsors for his bills.
As important as it is to return this issue to the states, that alone won’t be enough. Vance offers a sobering analysis:
Since the chance of the federal government or a significant number of state governments criminalizing abortion is a big, fat zero, only an appeal to religion or morality can truly stop abortion, not electing a Republican majority in Congress, not electing a Republican president so he can appoint more pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, not the federal judicial system, not amending the Constitution, not lobbying, not protests, not marches, and not by centralizing more power in Washington DC.
I disagree with Vance that we couldn’t see big victories in a significant number of states. But we’ve been used by both parties as a political gambit for so long, we’ve almost forgotten how to vote based on anything else. And meanwhile, our republic is falling apart around us.
We may not all agree that the form of government we have is the best one possible. We may believe that in an ideal world, an imperial edict banning abortion would be the most effective way of stopping it. But the fact remains that we live in a republic, not an empire, and the will of the people remains divided on this issue. If we work within the system and bring our efforts to a more local level rather than trying to establish an unpopular national decree, we stand a better chance of victory.
Or, we could just keep doing what we’re doing. Something tells me if that’s the course we choose, we won’t have much to show for our efforts in another 37 years.