Archive | Abortion

Republicans Dispute Federal Power to Regulate Abortion

Politico has a story about Marco Rubio’s attempted sponsorship of federal anti-abortion legislation. Apparently the bill is being delayed, however, by a dispute about federal power to regulate abortion:

Rubio and 27 other Republican senators signed onto a bill from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in 2011 that would require lawmakers to point to which piece of the Constitution allows government expansion — and he said adherence to that idea is causing the slowdown, not cold feet. Rubio said “certainly” the Constitution would allow a federal law banning abortions after 20 weeks — it’s just a question of which portion of the document.

The story doesn’t say what constitutional powers are in play or what the nature of the dispute is. My guess, though, is that some senators want to invoke the Commerce Clause, which seemed to be the assumed source of federal power for the partial-birth abortion statute; others who take a conservative view of the Commerce Clause probably want to take the more radical position of justifying it under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, as legislation enforcing the due process or equal-protection rights of fetuses. That’s just speculation, though. [...]

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Roe‘s Effect on Abortion Rates

The latest installment of the Washington Post‘s “Five Myths” series takes on abortion. Number three among the “Five Myths about Abortion” identified by author Rickie Solinger is “Roe led to a huge increase in the number of abortions.” Here is Solinger’s explanation for why this is a “myth”:

According to the Guttmacher Institute, at least 1 million illegal abortions were performed in the United States each year before Roe. Today, the number of abortions performed annually is still about 1 million. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that almost half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended. About four in 10 of these are ended by abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and these are performed in clean, safe, medically appropriate settings.

Roe didn’t mark the beginning of an abortion era — it legalized an already widespread practice.

Solinger purports to be correcting a “myth.” Yet nothing in Solinger’s account is directly responsive to the claim she purports to correct. The number of abortions in 2013 tells us very little about whether Roe v. Wade “led to a huge increase in the number of abortions.” What matters is what happened in the years following the Supreme Court’s decision and whether post-decision trends can be attributable to the Court’s decision, or are better understood as a result of something else.

According to Solinger’s own source, the Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions performed in the United States did increase dramatically in the years after Roe. As detailed in the Institute’s most recent abortion fact sheet, the abortion rate climbed dramatically from 1973 to 1981. The number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 rose from 16.3 in 1973 to 26.4. in 1977 to 29.3 in 1981. The Institute also notes that the number of legal abortions [...]

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The Kermit Gosnell Multiple Murder Trial

Conor Friedersdorf and Megan McArdle write about this at The Atlantic and The Daily Beast, respectively; an excerpt from Friedersdorf’s item:

The grand jury report in the case of Kermit Gosnell, 72, is among the most horrifying I’ve read. “This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy — and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors,” it states. “The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels — and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.” …

Until Thursday, I wasn’t aware of this story. It has generated sparse coverage in the national media, and while it’s been mentioned in RSS feeds to which I subscribe, I skip past most news items. I still consume a tremendous amount of journalism. Yet had I been asked at a trivia night about the identity of Kermit Gosnell, I would’ve been stumped and helplessly guessed a green Muppet. Then I saw Kirsten Power’s USA Today column. She makes a powerful, persuasive case that the Gosnell trial ought to be getting a lot more attention in the national press than it is getting.

The media criticism angle interests me. But I agree that the story has been undercovered, and I happen to be a working journalist, so I’ll begin by telling the rest of the story for its own sake. Only then will I explain why I think it deserves more coverage than it has gotten, although it ought to be self-evident by the time I’m done distilling

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Issues on which People are Most Resistant to Persuasion

This semester, I am once again teaching Constitutional Law II: The Fourteenth Amendment. I often tell my students in this class that there are three issues on which most people are particularly resistant to rational persuasion: abortion, the death penalty, and affirmative action. And it so happens that the course covers all three.

Actually, there is a general tendency of to discount opposing arguments on a wide range of political issues, not just these ones. It’s a consequence of our general lack of incentive to think rationally about politics. But the problem is worse on some issues than others, and these three strike me as among the worst offenders.

Why are people more close-minded on some issues than others? One factor is intensity of commitment. Obviously, these are issues on which many people have strongly held views. But that doesn’t differentiate them from a lot of other policy disputes. Think of the many people who have intensely held views on health care, taxation, gun rights, and so on. More important, I think, is that these are issues where most people believe that your stance derives directly from your fundamental values, rather than disagreements about empirics. Either you believe that abortion is like murder or you don’t; either it’s inherently wrong for the state to execute people or it’s not; affirmative action is either overdue compensation for historic injustices or it’s a form of invidious racial discrimination. By contrast, most people recognize that disputes over issues like taxes or health care are at least in part driven by differences over empirical questions rather than values. In reality, of course, empirical questions do matter to disputes over affirmative action and the death penalty. How effective are affirmative action programs? How much does the death penalty deter murder? How many innocent people [...]

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Who wants to provoke a constitutional crisis over abortion?

Today South Carolina Republican Senator Jim Demint hosted a forum at which five Republican presidential candidates spoke. The transcript is here.  Each candidate appeared one at a time, and the format allowed for in-depth questions and answers. Among the questioners was Princeton University’s Robert George. Prof. George asked each candidate if he or she would support congressional legislation, under section 5 of the 14th Amendment, to ban abortion. To state the obvious, such legislation would be contrary not only to Roe v. Wade and Penn. v. Casey (abortion rights are protected by section 1 of the 14th Amendment), but also to Boerne v. Flores (Congress cannot use section 5 to protect a right in defiance of direct Supreme Court holding about the particular aspect of the right).  The question explicitly presumed that Roe v. Wade had not been overturned, and that a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution had not been adopted.

The candidates’ answers were as follows:

Bachmann: Yes.

Cain: Yes.

Gingrich: Yes. Cooper v. Aaron‘s assertion of judicial supremacy was wrong. Following the precedent of the first Jefferson administration, I would abolish some federal judgeships. But I am not as bold as Jefferson. “I would do no more than eliminate Judge Barry in San Antonio and the ninth circuit. That’s the most I would go for. (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE). But let me say this. That’s part of the national debate. That’s not a rhetorical comment. I believe the legislative and executive branches have an obligation to defend the constitution against judges who are tyrannical and who seek to impose un-American values on the people of the United States.”

Paul: No. Violence and murder should be dealt with by the states. The federal police are already too numerous. I support a bill to deprive lower federal courts of jurisdiction

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Republican presidential candidates pledge to appoint judges to overturn the unconstitutional anti-abortion law they will sign

At CNN, Politico, National Review Online’s “The Corner” blog, and at the Susan B. Anthony List website, you can read the developing controversy over some Republican presidential candidates’ refusal to sign the SBA Lists’ “2012 Pro-Life Citizen’s Pledge.”

Signers thus far are Bachmann, Gingrich, Pawlenty, Paul, and Santorum. The items on the pledge are:

FIRST, to nominate to the U.S. federal bench judges who are committed to restraint and applying the original meaning of the Constitution, not legislating from the bench;

SECOND, to select only pro-life appointees for relevant Cabinet and Executive Branch positions, in particular the head of National Institutes of Health, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Health & Human Services;

THIRD, to advance pro-life legislation to permanently end all taxpayer funding of abortion in all domestic and international spending programs, and defund Planned Parenthood and all other contractors and recipients of federal funds with affiliates that perform or fund abortions;

FOURTH, advance and sign into law a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.

Of the candidates who have refused to sign, Mitt Romney objects because the wording of the demand to cut on federal abortion funding could be construed to stop federal aid to many hospitals; further, he refuses to make pro-life a litmus test for his executive branch appointments, as long as the appointees are willing to abide by (President) Romney’s own pro-life views. Herman Cain says he would “sign” the pain bill, but will not take the pledge to “advance” the bill, because “Congress must advance the legislation,” and he must have ”respect for the balance of power and the role of the presidency.”

Thus, of the announced candidates, we have only Gov. Gary Johnson who might have constitutional scruples [...]

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