Pro-life activists in Michigan received a nice victory this month when Gov. Rick Snyder signed a ban on partial-birth abortion into law. Banning partial-birth abortions has been a long-term goal of pro-lifers in Michigan. The state legislature passed partial-birth abortion bans in 2003 and 2008, but both were vetoed by Governor Granholm. In 2004, a citizen initiative banning partial-birth abortions received majority support, but was later struck down by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Still, passing this ban in 2004 was an accomplishment. Even though partial-birth abortion bans perform well in surveys, ballot initiatives elsewhere have met with little success. In the late 1990s, separate statewide initiative campaigns to ban partial-birth abortion in California and Washington State both failed.
Unsurprisingly, this successful effort to ban-partial birth abortions has been met with criticism. A few weeks ago, a commentary on NPR scolded Governor Snyder and the Michigan legislature for pursuing this issue at a time when the local economy is performing poorly. However, even with a federal ban on partial-birth abortion in effect, pursuing state bans is a wise strategy for pro-lifers. In general, local law enforcement tends to be more effective than federal law enforcement. Furthermore, during pro-choice presidential administrations, the Justice Department will probably make enforcing federal pro-life laws a low priority.
Raising the salience of the permissiveness of abortion policy in the United States is a wise strategy for pro-lifers. The effort to ban partial-birth abortion at the federal level clearly shifted public opinion in a pro-life direction during the 1990s. Other incremental laws at both the state and federal level still have that potential today. Michigan Right to Life and the rest of the pro-life community in Michigan deserve credit for their perseverance.
— Michael J. New is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ.