Bench Memos

Abortion and the Budget

Yesterday’s final budget standoff prompted this note from a friend, which I offer here as a guest post:

The current controversy over the federal budget serves as a clear and disturbing reminder that the most important issue in American politics is abortion. The fact that the budget dispute resolved last night, threatening a partial shutdown of the national government, came down to the funding of Planned Parenthood, is a striking confirmation of Ramesh Ponnuru’s description of the strongest elements of the Democratic Party as belonging to the “Party of Death.” The underlying “fidelity-to-the-central-holding-of-Roe” litmus test for Supreme Court nominees, familiar since the Bork hearings of the 1980s, now seems to be the test for budget bills as well. If the decision whether to keep the government functioning at full strength boils down to resolution of a controversy over abortion, then we seem to be approaching a situation of the kind that obtained shortly before the Civil War, in which a flawed Supreme Court decision was followed by an unbridgeable congressional divide and governmental paralysis. As Hadley Arkes suggested around the time of the Bork hearings, Dred Scott and Roe are cut from the same cloth. While I would hardly venture so far as to predict another civil war, the circumstances and the history cannot help but give one pause.

Robert L. Clinton is a constitutional scholar at Southern Illinois University.


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