The State of Abortion Policy in 2016: Holding Candidates Accountable

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Earlier this week in response to a question from Chris Matthews about whether or not abortion should be punished, GOP Presidential Candidate front-runner, Donald Trump responded by proclaiming, “Look, people in certain parts of the Republican Party, conservative Republicans, would say, ‘Yes, it should.’” He went on to say that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women if abortion is banned.

When faced with understandable outrage, Trump backtracked and released the following statement: “If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.”

Because I write legislation and policy on life issues, I was approached by several friends and asked what I thought about the idea of women being punished for obtaining illegal abortion. Was this really the official stance of prolife Americans, as Trump seemed to imply?

For 43 years and counting, the abortion industry has been lying to women. They consistently claim that abortion is not only a good choice, but the best choice, or the only choice for a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy. They claim that the unborn child is not actually a person, but rather a mass of tissue; that abortion has no negative psychological or physical consequences on a woman. They resist all efforts to hold abortion doctors responsible for injuring women and practicing in unsanitary environments under the false assertion that it restricts a woman’s access to “care.”  The bottom line is: women are victims of the abortion industry. Countless women have been harmed, physically and psychologically, as a direct result of abortion.

Abortion is a cash cow for practitioners, and groups such as Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, often prey on the fears and insecurities of women in crisis pregnancies. For these reasons, it is unconscionable to consider punishing women for obtaining abortions.

The question then arises, what will policy-makers do, then, to protect women if abortion were one day banned? There are quite a few states that already restrict certain types of abortion. Every piece of abortion restrictive legislation that carries a penalty exempts a woman from prosecution for obtaining an illegal abortion. When legal abortion is one day banned, we will already have policy mechanisms in place protecting the co-victims of abortion – women.

Unfortunately, the media narrative that claims pro-life Americans are anti-women has been largely successful. The truth is that the conservative pro-life movement has and will continue to be pro-woman. The health of women is better protected by pro-life legislation than it has ever been by Planned Parenthood. Every legislative session, prolifers introduce bills meant to protect women from the harm abortion causes.

When pressed on how he would change the law to restrict abortion in a subsequent media interview, Trump, who claimed to be “pro-life” at the beginning of his candidacy, he stated, “The laws are set now on abortion and that’s the way they’re going to remain until they’re changed.” This statement should not only confound conservative voters, it should frighten them.

First of all, the fact that a supposed “conservative” Presidential candidate is not clear or consistent on his view of the human rights issue of our time is more than concerning. Second, his answer reveals how little he understands about the state of abortion law in this country. The “laws” on abortion are not “set.” New, protective, common-sense restrictions are passed each year. Thanks to the lack of concern or political will in Congress to pass good pro-life legislation, the States have stepped up and really made a difference for life.

More than 58 million lives have been lost in the United States since 1973, as a direct result of legalized abortion. Since 2011, states have passed more pro-life bills than in the previous years since Roe v. Wade combined. States have a legitimate interest in the health and safety of their citizens, and these bills serve those important interests.

Just this past legislative session (2015-2016) prolife bills have been introduced and/or passed in Florida, Alabama, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Arizona, Utah, Missouri, Idaho, Ohio, and Louisiana. Among other provisions, these bills includes pain-capable child protection acts (banning abortion after 20 weeks based on the fact that a child can feel pain by at least 20 weeks gestation), removing state and federal funding from abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood, bans on the sale of fetal organs/remains, amendments to state constitutions which recognize the unborn as “persons,” bans on dismemberment abortion, penalties for persons who coerce women into having abortions, and requirements that abortion doctors obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals in case of emergencies. All proposed and enacted legislation works to protect women and children and asserts the important principle that all life is valuable and worthy of protection.

The truth about abortion “law” is that it is far from settled, and prolife policy is rightfully extensive, thoughtful, and protective. Any candidate who runs under the Republican Party platform should be held accountable to understand and further such policy.

On the other side of the aisle, the Democrat Party continues in its efforts to thwart all such protective legislation and promote abortion on demand, even though their leading candidate for president recently admitted that the unborn are persons.

In a recent interview, Hillary Clinton was asked, “When or if does an unborn child have constitutional rights?” She responded by declaring, “Well under our laws, currently, that is not something that exists.  The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights.”

Clinton’s statement reveals a disturbing thought process: 1) that she and other pro-choice proponents realize that the unborn child qualifies as a person and that 2) either they misunderstand the constitutional significance of that realization, or they believe basic human rights law should not apply to all persons equally. Once one admits that the unborn is a person, the constitutional argument for legalized abortion crumbles.

The very decision on which pro-choicers hang their hats, Roe v. Wade, destroys their argument for legalized abortion. In Roe, the state of Texas argued that its restriction on abortion was constitutional based on the fact that the unborn is a person, and thus, protected under the 14th Amendment. In response, Justice Blackmun, who authored the Roe opinion, rightfully noted that “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.”

As Clinton is no doubt aware, section one of the 14th Amendment declares that the state shall not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Thus, not only does her statement reveal a callous disregard for life, it works with legal finality against her argument for legalized abortion.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of grassroots organizations, non-profit pregnancy centers, prolife activists, and courageous legislators, women and children are better protected from the dangers of abortion. However, we have a long way to go in restoring the basic human rights of the unborn and helping women heal from the hurt abortion causes. Each presidential candidate would do well to objectively consider the legal, ethical, and sociological impact of abortion law and policy. Refusal to do so is a refusal to address the most pressing human rights issue of our time.

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