Will Congressional Republicans Betray Limited-Government Principles When it Comes to Abortion? Of Course.


Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, is a libertarian who generally leans right and Republican. But he's also a law professor. So in his USA Today article, he's laying into the GOP for inconsistency when it comes to the party's attempts to restrict abortion rights from Washington, D.C.:

Republicans are supposed to oppose abortion. They're also supposed to support small government — and, more specifically, a federal government that exercises only the powers enumerated in the Constitution. Sometimes, those positions come into conflict.

One such conflict is likely to appear this week, when the House is expected to vote on a 20-week limit on abortions. Such a limit polls well— Americans are much more supportive of early abortions than late-term abortions — and would still leave the United States with more-liberal abortion laws than nearly all of Europe. Even so, the Republicans need to be asking themselves — and the Democrats need to be asking them, too — where, exactly, Congress gets the power to limit abortions to 20 weeks?

The problem is that Congress is supposed to exercise only the powers enumerated in the Constitution, and those powers don't include regulating state medical procedures. (The federal government lacks even the power to criminalize murder as such: All federal "murder" statutes punish murdering someone in the course of violating some other federal law because unlike states, the federal government has no general "police power.")…

If, as Republicans in Congress keep telling us, they support limited government, then they need to support limits on government even when those limits stand in the way of doing something they want to do.

Will they?

Guttmacher Institute

Whole article.

I think we all know the answer to Reynolds' question: No, of course Republicans will not abide by supposedly rock-solid principles when it conflicts with their political agenda.

The same, of course, goes for the Democrats, but they make less hay about rule of law and the need for following process over achieving specific results. We know this from instances such as the Terry Schiavo case, when GOP leaders contravened their philosophical principles about state vs. federal powers in pursuit of a particular outcome in a particular case.

According to Gallup, about 27 percent of Republicans call themselves "pro-choice" (that compares with 46 percent of independents and 67 percent of Democrats). If a ban on abortion after 20 weeks were passed (and upheld by the Supreme Court), it would impact the slightly more than 1 percent of abortions that occur after 20 weeks.

For a discussion of "Libertarian Views on Abortion," featuring Reason's Katherine Mangu-War, Ronald Bailey, and me, plus The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway, go here.

Increasingly, mostly Republican state legislatures have been using exactly the sort of onerous, retroactive regulations on medical providers they would decry in any other context to try and shut down abortion clinics in states across the country. For an example of how that process works, check out the Reason TV documentary below.

Which is all well and good if stopping abortions at any cost is your goal. But it does come at the cost of pretending that you and your party is absolutely devoted to principle and process rather than results.