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Centrist Abortion Regulations: They Don’t Work


I have a review of Helena Silverstein’s new study of judicial bypass provisions in parental involvement statutes up at TAP. My bottom line:

The particularly salient lesson to draw from Silverstein’s book is that it’s important to ask whether abortion regulations actually accomplish anything, even on their own terms. “Basing a policy that regulates the right to abortion on confidence that the law stands outside of politics and free of bureaucratic red tape,” writes Silverstein, “is a mistake fraught with consequences for those whom the right ostensibly protects.”

Support for these laws is often more about the assumption that compromise on abortion is inherently desirable rather than arguments about what benefits will come from the legislation. Is there any evidence, for example, that the lack of abortion regulation makes the decisions of Canadian women less responsible? Whatever their merits in the abstract, in practice “centrist” abortion regulations do little but put up obstacles in the path of the most vulnerable women while not accomplishing any useful objective. Parental involvement laws — which are largely superfluous for young women in good family situations and potentially dangerous for young women in bad situations — are a case in point, especially since the safeguards intended to protect the latter don’t work. Silverstein makes a careful, meticulous, and ultimately powerful case that even those who support the ends of parental involvement laws should reject them in practice.

Most abortion regulations that represent the compromise beloved by so many pundits are bad laws, for two different reasons. The first is that the regulations usually have no rational connection to the asserted state interest: statutes that allegedly advance goals such as “not using abortion at birth control” or “only allowing abortions that William Saletan thinks are appropriate” in fact obstruct some classes of women from obtaining abortions irrespective of the circumstances and do little to stop other classes of women from obtaining abortions irrespective of the circumstances. With parental involvement laws, there is at least a connection between the policy and the asserted interest, and the problem becomes that the policies just don’t actually achieve the results.

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