For at least some of the Republican candidates, I don’t doubt that the position that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape, incest and the mother’s life stems from sincere, deep moral conviction.
But Iowa front-runner Ron Paul’s position that states should outlaw abortion even in these “hard cases” but the federal government should not extend any rights to the unborn ought to be more disturbing to the pro-life movement than even an outright pro-abortion position.
Let’s start with the pro-life problem with Paul’s position. If abortion truly takes a human life, then there’s a very clear governmental interest in preventing abortions in cases–late term abortions–where there’s little room for scientific doubt that the fetus is a viable human life. If the federal government has any function at all, furthermore, it has a clear responsibility to protect life when the states are unable or unwilling to do so. This is why the federal government provides for national defense and why its failure to prevent lynching in the Jim Crowe South ought to be considered an enormous moral failure.
Pro-choicers, even radical ones who believe that post-delivery infanticide is justified in certain rare cases don’t reject the idea that the federal government should enforce some standards. In fact, they almost all believe in current federal case law that supports legal abortion and then elevate some values–sexual freedom, free choice in general, reduction of overall human suffering–above the value of human life itself.
Many pro-choicers, furthermore, point to the difficulty of determining when when human life begins and have sympathy for the very difficult situations faced by many women who seek abortions. And, thus, while millions of Americans (me included) have pro-life views, hardly any pro-lifers actually feel that abortion should be treated in the same manner as murder and most see some cases–hard cases–where abortion ought to be permitted anyway.
Paul’s position, like a pro-choice position, places another value (a less powerful federal government) above the value of human life. In so doing, it implicitly leaves room for states to allow things like mandatory abortions of the genetically “defective” children, the (theoretical) practice of “farming” fetuses for organ transplants, and taxpayer subsidies for abortion that involve federal dollars. These practices are, for obvious reasons, a lot more problematic than the “hard case” that abortions Paul wants to prohibit and, at least in the first two cases, most pro-choicers would probably find common ground with pro-lifers in believing the federal government should step in to prohibit them.
But Paul’s desire to diminish federal power leaves tremendous room for them. And that’s why it’s morally even more troublesome than a pro-choice position.