April 30, 2001
Respect for Life begins with Respect for the Constitutional Rule of Law
As a pro-life obstetrician-gynecologist, I am steadfastly opposed to abortion. I strongly believe that a fetus is a human life, and that a fetus deserves the same legal protections afforded to all Americans. I also believe that the Roe v. Wade decision will prove to be the most flawed Supreme Court ruling of the 20th century. There is no real or imagined "right to abortion" in the Constitution under any serious interpretation of that document. The Supreme Court simply created a nonexistent constitutional right out of thin air to serve the political agenda of the justices.
Thirty years later, the pro-life fight goes on. Well-intentioned pro-life advocates supported a bill in Congress last week called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, believing it represented a step toward restoring respect for unborn life. Unfortunately, the bill does not accord any human or legal status to fetuses, but rather creates a new federal penalty for harming the mother of a fetus. The reasoning is deeply flawed: if there is to be a greater penalty for harming a pregnant woman than an ordinary woman, it must be based on the harm to the unborn child. In other words, the enhanced penalty must be for the second offense to the second human life. Yet the legislation evades this fundamental truth by refusing to recognize the fetus as a human person. So the Act is seriously flawed and will not engender new respect for unborn life.
Worse yet, the Act serves to legitimize and further entrench the Roe v. Wade decision. Like Roe, the Act federalizes law which the Constitution properly leaves to the states. Constitutionally, virtually all crimes are state matters. The only true federal crimes are those listed in Article I (treason, piracy, and counterfeiting); all other crimes are left to the jurisdiction of the states under the 10th Amendment. Yet Congress finds it much easier to federalize every human evil rather than uphold the Constitution and respect states' rights. Impassioned pro-life Americans might want a federal criminal law protecting fetuses, but in truth the federal government is more likely to pass laws favoring abortion rather than outlawing it. Once we allow federal control over abortion, we lose the opportunity for states to enact pro-life legislation. Numerous states already have laws that punish the act of murder against a fetus. Our focus should be on overturning Roe and getting the federal government completely out of the business of regulating state matters. All abortion foes must understand that the real battle should be fought at the state level, where grassroots respect for life can influence state legislatures.
The tragic irony is that the proposed legislation specifically protects abortionists from prosecution for harming a pregnant mother and her unborn child. An attacker with no knowledge of a woman's pregnancy receives a greater penalty for his deed, while the abortionist with full knowledge of his actions is not charged. So much for increasing respect for life.
Political expediency is never an excuse for ignoring the Constitution. The Supreme Court did so in Roe v. Wade, with tragic consequences. The states are now unable to enact laws to protect the weakest, smallest, and most innocent human lives. A society that does not respect life cannot be expected to respect liberty. Our goal must be to restore respect for the Constitution and states' rights. Only then can states properly restore respect for unborn life by criminalizing the act of abortion.