Special Report

Rudy’s Abortion Deal-Breaker

Drawing the line on public funding.

By 4.13.07

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Perhaps it is inevitable that a man who became a national icon also ended up politically tone deaf. He began to believe his press clipplings, sycophants surrounded him, drowning out any criticism, and the rush of White House staff wannabees left him convinced that the bandwagon could not run off-course. Rudy Giuliani obviously doesn't get it, but his support for taxpayer-paid abortions could --and certainly should--prove to be the deal- breaker for pro-life conservatives.

Until now, at least, Giuliani had posed the most serious political challenge yet for social conservatives. He possessed the aura of competence and seemed to say the "right" things when it came to most economic, regulatory, and foreign policy issues. Which meant that many on the right felt he could be trusted, at least as far as any politician could be trusted, to deliver on the most important issues. (I'm less sanguine, but that's another matter.)

Of course, the unsavory private life -- the tacky public announcement of his planned divorce, unseemly court fight over bringing his mistress into the city-provided mayoral residence, and estrangement from his kids -- left a nasty taste. Good policy should still be trump, but then there was Giuliani's support for abortion. It's a difficult and complex issue, but supporting abortion is different from, say, backing higher dairy subsidies.

Giuliani attempted to deal with the issue by criticizing partial birth abortion and promising to appoint "strict- constructionist" judges, understood by conservatives as being likely to overturn Roe v. Wade. Moreover, Giuliani adviser William E. Simon, Jr. told National Review Online that "I have an assurance that he is in favor of the Hyde Amendment," which bans federal funding of abortion, other than in cases of rape, incest, and life threat to the mother.

The man-who-would-be-president couldn't help wiggling a bit: He said he had no "litmus test" for judicial appointees and that his form of "strict-construction" would allow them to decide "to respect the precedent," which would mean upholding Roe. Nevertheless, this package might have sufficed for most pro-lifers. Frankly, no president is going to do a lot more. About all that Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush did was undermine the legal foundations of Roe and fight public subsidies for abortion.

Then Giuliani told CNN: "Ultimately, it's a constitutional right, and therefore if it's a constitutional right, ultimately, even if you do it on a state by state basis, you have to make sure people are protected." Back in 1989 he was even more explicit: "There must be public funding for abortions for poor women. We cannot deny any woman the right to make her own decisions about abortion." To not do so "would deprive someone of a constitutional right."

First, former U.S. Attorney Giuliani has the law wrong. The constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment was litigated up to the Supreme Court. Government has no duty to provide people with the means to exercise their constitutional rights. If it did, I would own a multi-billion dollar media conglomerate ensuring my right to free speech. Anyone of limited means would be eligible for a government-provided firearm. Even purveyors of soft porn, protected under the current interpretation of the First Amendment, could expect a federal boost. And we all could start our own churches at Uncle Sam's expense. It's a nutty, and thoroughly discredited, argument. Giuliani should know better.

Second, forcing taxpayers to fund abortion makes them complicit in what many citizens view as the equivalent of murder. Never mind whether they are right or the majority of people agree with them. Washington has created a massive system of coerced subsidies that is expensive, stupid, and counterproductive. But most of the transfers raise no particular moral issues -- other than stealing taxpayers' money for the benefit of politically power fulinterest groups.

Abortion is different. For that reason policymakers should require a much higher standard before conscripting people's money. Even assuming Roe was correctly decided, and that it is philosophically unfair for poor women to lack access to the procedure, abortion advocates can raise money privately. There is no good public argument, no serious national need, to justify taxpayer subsidies.

Thus, to back public funding is to do far more than waste public monies. It is to override people's most deeply held philosophical and theological beliefs for cheap political advantage. Complained Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition: "Supporting federally funded abortions is an anathema to all of us who believe abortion is murder." Even many who wouldn't put the case quite so starkly would be deeply offended at having their pockets picked to finance people's abortions.

Giuliani attempted to sidestep the implications of his position by promising not to change existing law. Fine, but would he stop Congress from changing existing law? The Senate in 2009 almost certainly will be Democratic; at present, at least, the House could easily remain in Democratic hands. In that case only a presidential veto is likely to preserve the law unchanged. Will Giuliani block a measure lifting the Hyde Amendment?

Should social conservatives be single issue voters? There's no easy answer, since even many people on the same side are more or less passionate and often feel more certain of their positions than do others.

Moreover, one can never compare political candidates thinking "all other things being equal." All other things never are equal, so one has to weigh widely varying packages of personal and policy factors against one another.

Thus, it's fair for social conservatives to consider voting for a pro-abortion candidate like Giuliani. But the leap is further, much further, when the pro-abortion candidate believes in forcing all taxpayers to underwrite the process.

Public funding for abortion creates an official imprimatur of respectability and makes us all complicit in a great moral wrong. If Mayor Giuliani can't understand such a fundamental issue, or worse, understands it but doesn't care, he's likely to disappoint conservative voters in other important areas as well.

There are some deal-breakers in politics. Public financing of abortion should be one for social conservatives.

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About the Author
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington (Transaction).