Thursday, March 16, 2006


A House Divided: South Dakota Abortion Ban Exposes Pro-Life Rift

(Published by The American Enterprise March 14, 2006)

The pro-life movement is clearly on a roll. Months of kicking and screaming from pro-abortion forces could not prevent presumably pro-life justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito from joining the ranks of the Supreme Court. Of course nobody knows for sure how the two will vote when an abortion case comes before them, but South Dakota wasted no time in starting a ball rolling that will eventually put the pro-life credentials of Roberts and Alito to the test.

The South Dakota state legislature recently passed legislation that will eliminate all abortions in the state except those required to save the life of the mother. The legislators know full well that this legislation is in outright conflict with the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that allowed abortion for virtually any reason in the first six months of pregnancy. If the governor signs the legislation, its legality will be immediately challenged and the stalking horse will begin its long journey to an almost inevitable appearance on the docket of the Supreme Court.

I ought to be ecstatic. Anyone who reads my commentary knows that nobody is more pro-life and anti-abortion than I. I am thrilled that the process is underway, but I am also apprehensive about the outcome. And it’s not because I fear the Court will overturn the ban. In fact, I think it’s likely. We are still at least one vote short of a pro-life majority on the Court. But even if it gets shot down, the public debate generated will be good for the country in the long run.

However, my enthusiasm is somewhat short of ecstatic because the whole country is about to find out that the pro-life movement is seriously divided. One camp supports the South Dakota ban which only allows abortions to preserve the life of the mother. The other camp supports an abortion ban that allows exceptions for cases of rape and incest, as well as to preserve the life of the mother. I’m personally in the South Dakota camp, but the camp supporting exceptions for rape and incest is substantial. If you follow abortion polls you already know that an abortion ban reaches majority support only if exceptions for rape and incest are allowed.

This division is serious in the long run. Neither pro-life camp on its own represents a majority. And majority support for pro-life legislation is important. If Roe v. Wade is eventually overturned, each individual state will determine its own legislative course on abortion. I hate to say it, but if those of us who do not support exceptions for rape and incest don’t concede and join with our pro-life colleagues who do, we will soon be engaged in a family argument that will delay or even torpedo pro-life progress. We got a small glimpse of the family struggle ahead of us when President Bush announced this week that he does not support the South Dakota ban, but would be in favor of a ban that includes exceptions for rape and incest. His comments ignited quite an uproar in the pro-life community. You can imagine how uproarious it will be when this debate gets serious and both branches of the family are fully engaged.

That would be a real tragedy for the more than 1 million babies that are aborted in this country each and every year. Personally, I’m willing to compromise on this point because only a relative handful of abortions are performed because of rape or incest. We ought to get together now as a united pro-life movement and agree to support bans on abortion that allow for exceptions in the cases of rape and incest. With a united front, we will be able to move more quickly. And the sooner the better. An abortion ban that includes exceptions for rape and incest would save over 1 million lives each and every year. Then those of us who don’t support abortion in cases of rape and incest can continue that fight, knowing that in the meantime we have already done our part to save millions of lives that would have otherwise been lost while we were wasting precious time participating in a family debate.

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