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Will Any Principled Pro-Life Federalists Please Stand Up?

[ 3 ] November 30, 2007 |

I see that Rudy Giuliani — who Ann Althouse assured us in the august pages of the New York Times was a deeply principled federalist — has come out in favor of federal abortion regulations as long as he favors the regulations. States’ rights! Admittedly, if he were a truly principled federalist like Ron Paul he would favor making abortion first degree murder in all 50 states.

Speaking of which, John Holbo says most of what I would say in response to the second point raised by Ramesh Ponnuru’s latest response on the topic. My short version is that when evaluating public discourse I’m interested in the implications of the policies being advocated, not in the subjective motivations of the speaker. We know that 1)support for abortion criminalization has a strong tendency in the U.S. to be bundled together with reactionary positions on gender and sexuality, 2)given the choice between a policy that is likely to reduce abortion rates but is inconsistent with regulating female sexuality (such as providing greater access to contraception) American pro-lifers will tend to sacrifice the former principle, and 3)American pro-lifers favor some policies that increase injury to women without protecting fetal life at all. I hardly think it’s absurd to infer from this that American pro-life politics may involve things other than the pure desire to protect fetal life, but at any rate it’s the effect of the policies than actually matters.

With respect to the federalism issue, Ponnuru concedes Paul’s inconsistency but goes on to say that “it hardly follows that Lemieux is right to say that almost everybody who says they want the issue to be resolved by the states is lying.” Unless the argument turns on hair-splitting about the distinction between “lying” and “implausibly misinformed about recent political events and/or shamelessly unprincipled,” however, I do want to defend a strong version of this claim. At least when it comes to people with any prominence in American politics, aside from a tiny fraction of libertarians almost none of the people who claim to support the overturning of Roe to “send the issue back to the states” actually believes that abortion should be strictly a state issue. Every single pro-life Republican in Congress voted for the “Partial Birth” Abortion Ban Act. President Bush signed it. As far as I can tell, every major pro-life organization supported it (and, of course, support more extensive federal regulation.) Most conservative pundits who wrote about the topic supported it (see some relevant links here) and supported Carhart II. If Ponnuru can come up with some examples of prominent abortion opponents who consistently oppose any federal regulation of abortion, I’ll retract the charge, but in the vast majority of cases deploying rhetoric about “federalism” is nothing but a cynical prop (or is based on an incredibly misinformed view about what COngressional Republicans actually think about abortion.)

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  1. Jonathan says:

    Why are you giving anti-choicers the benefit of the doubt? What have they ever done to deserve such consideration? Isn’t the history of the modern conservative movement filled with adequate evidence that they only operate in bad faith?

  2. [...] I think Chait is missing (like Dana Goldstein before him) the fact that Ron Paul is a staunch opponent of the Civil Rights Act because he’s such a principled libertarian and federalist. [...]

  3. [...] to face severe criminal sanctions if they obtain abortions.  And, certainly, Paul — like virtually all anti-choice Republicans — has never believed that abortion policy should be “left to the states.” [...]

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