Abortion and Big Government

Restrictions on abortion highlight slippery slope of government intervention


"Pray to end abortion," say many pro-lifers. Given that abortion is a regrettable necessity at best, this is a noble sentiment. Unfortunately, politicians are not inclined to leave an outcome to the Almighty, who might mess it up.

Because they cannot ban abortion outright, conservative politicians have tried to discourage it in heavy-handed and sometimes humiliating ways. Thirty-four states impose regulations specific to abortion providers; 35 require counseling, and 26 impose waiting periods. Eight states, including Virginia, now require women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound. Last year lawmakers in the Old Dominion drew national scorn by proposing a law that would have mandated an invasive transvaginal ultrasound.

Indiana wants to top them all.

Last week the health committee of the Indiana Senate approved a bill to require not one transvaginal ultrasound, but two '" one before the abortion, and one afterward '" for medical, rather than surgical, abortions. (Medical abortions are those induced by drugs such as RU-486.)

The full Senate later dropped the second ultrasound. But it kept in place requirements that establishments dispensing pills such as RU-486 meet the same construction standards as those performing surgical abortions. As the Indianapolis Star reported, "That requirement means the clinic must have operating and sterilization equipment along with widened hallways and doorways. And that, said Planned Parenthood of Indiana, likely means that its clinic in Lafayette will have to close."

As elsewhere, the lawmakers backing the bills have tried to portray them as efforts to protect women's health. But that pose is pretty hard to sustain when you're demanding wider halls and doorways for handing out pills.

It got harder still when Indiana Democrats suggested the same treatment for men seeking vasectomies or pills to help, ah, turn their floppy disks into hard drives. Surely, Democrats said, men ought to be lectured about the risks '" perhaps undergo a prostate exam, even. State Senator Mike Young, sponsor of a bill requiring informed consent, ultrasound, and other restrictions on abortion, was not amused. "I don't find these things funny or humorous," he said. There's a shock.

Indiana might not require two ultrasounds this year. Yet just by introducing the measure, Hoosier Republicans have raised the bar for lawmakers in other states.

Perhaps one day we'll see a three-ultrasound requirement. Or a bill requiring not just hospital building-code standards for abortion clinics, but the construction of an entire hospital. Mike Young's bill requires auscultation of a fetal heartbeat; if an abortion patient would rather not listen to it, she must sign a form to that effect. Perhaps some enterprising lawmaker in another state will require pregnant women seeking abortions to write letters to their unborn children. We eventually might even get around to requiring scarlet letters, too.

This brings up a much broader problem in American politics: Call it the auctioneer effect. Having approved a new law or program to address a circumstance in one year, politicians confront a dilemma in subsequent years: What next? Often '" almost always '" the problem does not disappear. It wouldn't do to conclude that, since previous laws and programs have failed, perhaps the problem lies beyond government's ability to solve. Answer: Write more laws and fund more programs! As in a genuine auction, the winner is the pol who can propose the most.

You can see the auctioneer effect all over the place. You can see it in public education, where ever-increasing expenditures produce flat test scores, which are then met with calls for even more spending. You can see it in the war on poverty, which now boasts 126 separate means-tested programs at the federal level alone. You can see it in gun control, where "high-capacity" once referred to 20- or 30-round magazines but now applies (in New York, and perhaps elsewhere soon) to those holding as few as eight.

And you can really see it in the war on crime, in which politicians seek to out-Roy Bean one another by perpetually ratcheting down thresholds for offenses '" and perpetually ratcheting up penalties for same. A couple of decades ago states across the country began passing three-strikes laws, which mete out life sentences after a third offense. Having done that, some then began to demand two-strikes laws. ("Two strikes and you're out!" bellowed Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell back in 2005, when he was running for attorney general.) How about one? Anybody for one strike?

Humorist P.J. O'Rourke once asked: "When can we quit passing laws and raising taxes? When can we say of our political system, 'Stick a fork in it, it's done'?" Given Indiana's latest shenanigans, the answer to that is: God only knows.

This article originally appeared in The Richmond Times-Dispatch.