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POINT: “A house divided” yet again

Now is the time to work for federal restrictions on abortion


A marcher with a pro-life sign stands on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 22, 2010. Associated Press/Photo by Cliff Owen

POINT: “A house divided” yet again
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Abortion is a national issue. California Gov. Gavin Newsom wants the entire country to come to his state to get abortions. He’s been busy placing billboards in many pro-life states, promoting abortion tourism in his so-called “abortion sanctuary.” Last year, California approved millions of taxpayer dollars for abortion travel from outside the state. Virtually every abortion-seeker in Missouri, where abortion facilities are nonexistent, already travels out of state to have an abortion.

But blue state politicians aren’t the only ones that have been pushing abortion since Roe’s overturn. As I’ve explained previously, the United States Department of Defense is facilitating abortions for those serving where it is illegal. The Biden Administration is also defying federal law by allowing abortion drugs to be mailed to consumers nationwide, putting women (and their unborn children) at risk.

Recently, debate within the pro-life community reached national news when former President Donald Trump said that abortion legislation should be left up to individual states. As his team announced, he believes that the Supreme Court “got it right when they ruled this is an issue that should be decided at the State level.” Aside from being an incorrect interpretation of Dobbs, which returned the issue of abortion to the American people and their elected representatives at every level, it’s also legally and morally mistaken to assert that we must focus solely on state legislation to restrict abortion.

Let’s consider three common objections to a federal framework for abortion.

First, some assert that we should focus our efforts on states where we can currently win, such as Missouri, Texas, and elsewhere. But the vast majority of abortions aren’t happening there. New York is responsible for nearly 12 percent of abortions in the country, more than in 28 other states and D.C. combined. Together, California and New York account for one in four abortions nationwide. And abortion tourism, the Department of Defense, and mail-order abortion drugs still make abortion possible in states where it is illegal.

We can’t address this problem without nationalizing it.

Others invoke subsidiarity or federalism, saying we should try to address political issues at the lowest level possible. Nationalizing everything, as our political climate is wont to do, usually leads to unnecessary polarization, yes, but as some states restrict abortion, many abortion-seekers will simply look elsewhere. We can’t address this problem without nationalizing it, especially as, on a practical level, we lack the popular support to address it from within abortion sanctuary states.

Finally, some are concerned that there is no constitutional authority to legislate on abortion. But as Josh Craddock has argued, the unborn are persons entitled to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that the government shall not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” While the 14th Amendment hasn’t been tested in court with regard to unborn life, the interstate commerce clause has, and a recent pro-life bill invokes both for its legal grounding. As Robert George and Craddock have said, “When blue states proceed to enact legislation to permit abortion to the very point of birth, it will be the duty of Congress to enforce constitutional rights for the unborn through federal legislation.”

I am convictionally pro-life. I was proud to work during the last administration to ensure the United States was not funding abortions overseas nor contributing to international efforts pressuring countries to legalize abortion. I have always and will always work to see every unborn life protected, and every woman safe and healthy. And I fully believe that the pro-life movement needs to concentrate its efforts on local, state, and federal legislation to avoid getting outmaneuvered by the abortion industry’s relentless and reckless efforts to ensure abortion remains available on demand, until the moment of birth, mirroring policies similar to North Korea’s and China’s.

The question is not whether Congress can legislate on abortion. The question is, as it has been for a long time, whether unborn children are persons. The pro-lifer believes that the life inside the womb is a person—more, a person created in the image of God. As such, the same tradition that declared life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people should guarantee the same for the unborn.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” If abortion is left up to the states alone, if the personhood of the unborn is not recognized by all, we are as divided as the slave and free states of Lincoln’s America. “This government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free,” Lincoln warned. So long as we try to maintain different standards of personhood, the temptation toward secession—or a national divorce, as some members of Congress have suggested—will, God forbid, only continue to sound more appealing.

Congress should act now to recognize fetal personhood and restrict abortion nationwide.

Read R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s “What comes now in the great battle for life?” and Daniel R. Suhr’s “COUNTERPOINT: Let’s make incremental, achievable, constitutional progress.”


Katelyn Walls Shelton

Katelyn Walls Shelton is a Bioethics Fellow at the Paul Ramsey Institute. She is a women’s health policy consultant who previously worked to promote the well-being of women and the unborn at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She graduated from Yale Divinity School and Union University and lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, John, and their three children.

@annakateshelt


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