Politics & Policy

Preventing the Next Gosnell

Representative Trent Franks (R., Ariz.) has introduced a bill that would ban abortions performed after the 20th week of pregnancy. In the wake of the horrific trial of abortionist/murderer of newborns Kermit Gosnell, that bill has passed out of subcommittee — with every Democrat opposed — and is being sent to the Judiciary Committee. It deserves to become law.

To be sure, the bill is at odds with current Supreme Court jurisprudence, and it is certain to be challenged. The Court should welcome the opportunity to revisit its rulings on the subject, which have been by any measure extreme, to say nothing of their fundamental lack of constitutional merit.

#ad#The Fourteenth Amendment commands that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” and directs Congress to enforce the guarantee. In many cases, under current law, the newborns butchered in Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia abattoir would have been denied the protection of the law had Gosnell stabbed and dismembered them a few inches away from where he did, or had he done so a few minutes before he did. The distinction between an unborn child a few moments (or a few weeks) away from delivery and an infant is a judicial creation with no basis in moral logic. The horror with which the American public regarded the evidence in the Gosnell trial suggests that this is, despite four decades of indoctrination, understood at a level deeper than politics. While Americans still support access to abortion in particular circumstances, they favor many restrictions on abortion and especially on late-term abortions. Republicans need not be meek on the subject of late-term abortions; if the Democrats want to be the party of Kermit Gosnell, they are welcome to it.

There is an additional political reason not to shy away from this issue. If 2012 taught us anything, it is that when Republicans do not have an abortion agenda of their own, the Democrats will invent one for them — one that is sure to be less popular than banning late-term abortions. The Democrats invented a “War on Women” out of whole cloth the last time around; 2014 is unlikely to be any different. Better to be on offense pressing for good policies than on defense explaining away imaginary ones.

The Supreme Court is wrong about abortion, and it has been for 40 years. It has been constitutionally wrong, morally wrong, and politically wrong. Congress and the state legislatures have the constitutional power to restrict abortion, and they have a moral obligation to see to it, at the very least, that the crimes of Kermit Gosnell are not endlessly replicated across the country. And while the electorate may not be entirely in the pro-life camp, it is not so extreme in its embrace of abortion as the Emily’s List faction imagines. Even if restricting late-term abortions were a guaranteed losing proposition, it would be a fight worth having and losing. But it would be better to have that fight and win, and this is the time for it.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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