Using Ron Paul’s abortion position as a jumping off point, Joe Carter makes the case against applying federalism to life issues, arguing that doing so attaches greater significance to the rights of governments than the rights of individuals. In no particular order, a few quick rejoinders.
First, Ron Paul has voted for national pro-life legislation. Of particular relevance to this discussion, Paul voted for the partial-birth abortion ban, the first federal law against an abortion procedure since Roe v. Wade. Despite having concerns about the bill conceding too much ground to supporters of abortion and evan some constitutional objections, Paul explained that he decided to err on the side of life. So it is simply mistaken to say that pro-life federalists generally or Paul in particular won’t ever take any federal pro-life action.
Second, Carter seems to assume we have a pro-life federal government in place that would stop the pro-choice states from running amuck. That assumption seems to me to be in error, and Terri Schiavo is not a very good example for the federal-state dynamic on life issues more generally. In many cases, federal pro-life proposals like the human life amendment are politically untenable symbolism that allow politicians to assume a pro-life posture without saving a single life. By contrast, the increase in state pro-life legislation after 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision contributed to the drop in the number of abortions during the 1990s, even when pro-choice Democrats ran the federal government.
Indiana just passed a law de-funding Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider and one of its largest abortion advocates (note that it was party to the above Supreme Court case, a legal challenge to Pennsylvania’s pro-life laws). Federal legislation de-funding Planned Parenthood failed. I can see a theoretical universe in which some states are denying the rights of the unborn in the same way some states once denied the rights of blacks, but we’re not living in it. Greater federalism would make our country’s abortion policy more pro-life than it is now while demands for federal action will, under present political circumstances, result in nothing being done.
Third, governments don’t have rights. Governments have powers, and under our constitutional structure the federal government only has the powers that the people and the states give them. Constitutionally limited government, and thus federalism, isn’t just about procedure. It is about the same principle that informs the pro-life position: the rights of the people come from God and the powers of government come from the people. In the long run, the probability of government-sanctioned injustice is greater when government is allowed to do whatever it wants, and even whatever political leaders personally believe is right, without regard to enumerated powers.
Daniel Larison also responded.
W. James Antle, III, author of the new book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?, is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a senior editor of The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter @jimantle.
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