Politics & Policy

Life Lessons for Rudy

When Rudolph Giuliani announced his entry into the race for president, we noted that there were reasons to find his candidacy both compelling and problematic. In the latter category fell, above all, his denial that unborn children have a right to life. Even on that issue, however, we held out hope that Giuliani would try to meet pro-life conservatives halfway. He had already come around on partial-birth abortion, even if he had not come up with a good explanation for his shift. He had said that he favors “strict constructionist” judges, who attempt to determine what the law is rather than to make it what they think it should be. We hoped that he would go further: for example, by joining President Bush in declaring Roe v. Wade a bad decision as a matter of constitutional law, or even by joining Sen. John McCain in calling for its overturning.

Instead, we are sorry to say, he has mostly gone into reverse. Since his announcement, he has said that, in his mind, a strict constructionist judge could as easily rule to keep Roe as to scrap it. He has continued to misrepresent pro-lifers as seeking to throw pregnant women “in jail.” He has refused to rule out signing federal legislation codifying Roe should it be presented to him as president. And, most troublingly, has reiterated his longstanding support for taxpayer funding for abortion.

This is not a moderate position. We are already almost alone in the developed world in having such liberal abortion laws: Thanks to some of the little-known implications of Roe, abortion is legal at any stage of pregnancy for essentially any reason. Giuliani favors, in principle, making that regime more liberal still. Economist Michael New has studied the effect of various policies on abortion rates and concluded that nothing has reduced them more than cutoffs in public funding. We can therefore assume that an America with Giuliani’s favored policies would be a country with more abortion—probably reversing the 15-year trend of decline, including the decline in New York City for which he takes dubious credit.

The last Republican president to favor legal abortion was the late Gerald Ford, and even he did not support taxpayer funding. Every Republican president and presidential nominee since then has favored legal protection for unborn life. Neither morality nor opinion polls suggest any reason to do a 180-degree turn now. Support for taxpayer funding of abortion is a minority position. Seventeen states provide taxpayer funding for abortion, all but four of them under judicial compulsion.

The mayor’s rationale for abortion funding is bizarre. Putting his statements together and reading them as charitably as possible, his argument is that so long as the Supreme Court says abortion is a constitutional right state governments have an obligation to help poor women afford it.

Note that governments have no such legal obligation: The Supreme Court, in a series of cases from 1977, ruled that they do not. So Giuliani must (we again assume charitably) be positing some kind of moral obligation to carry out the Supreme Court’s work beyond its writ. Combine this view with Giuliani’s other constitutional musings, and the results get stranger still. Giuliani has said in the past that people should have to show good character and get federal licenses before buying guns. Now he says, without repudiating those past statements, that the courts should read the Second Amendment to protect an individual right to own guns. So should states spend money to let poor people pack heat? Or will women need to show good character and get federal licenses before they have abortions?

Mayor Giuliani has tied himself in knots. His position makes neither logical, moral, nor political sense. Many conservatives are disappointed, and hope that their disappointment is not going to grow as the campaign wears on.

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