Written by the Editors of National Review Online
Democrats hold one thing — and one thing only — sacred, and that is abortion. Our diplomats may be murdered abroad, the rule of law may be grossly violated at home, the First Amendment may be written off as just another roadblock on the freeway to utopia, but abortion will always have for them a uniquely holy status — even if that means employing unholy methods to facilitate it. Thus U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut has introduced a bill, cosponsored by a majority of Senate Democrats, that would purport to strip states of their ability to impose even the most basic of health and safety regulations on the grisly procedure, a bill that David French has rightly suggested should be titled the Kermit Gosnell Enabling Act of 2014.
Readers will recall, though they will not enjoy it, the details of Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s case, the transcript of which reads like the screenplay for a Rob Zombie horror flick: the illegal abortions; the newborns who survived botched abortion attempts only to have their spinal cords severed with scissors; the obscenely unhygienic conditions, with free-ranging cats using the clinic as an open-air litter box; the dead patient and subsequent manslaughter conviction; and, finally, the murder convictions. The Gosnell gore-fest was a direct consequence of the elevation of abortion to divine office: Neither the local authorities in Democrat-dominated Philadelphia nor the Democrat-dominated statewide bureaucracies in Pennsylvania were much inclined to exercise basic oversight of abortion clinics. Even after a woman died under Dr. Gosnell’s knife, there was little interest in investigating his practice: It took allegations of illegal prescription-drug use and the piqued interest of the DEA to put Gosnell on the radar.
Senator Blumenthal proposes to apply the Philadelphia model to the nation at large. Under his bill, states would have effectively no power even to ensure that abortions are performed by licensed physicians — surely the most minimal standard of medical responsibility that there is. Laws covering grisly late-term abortions would be forcibly overturned and fetal viability would be redefined according to the subjective whim of the abortionist. While the Democrats are bemoaning a fictitious war on women, their bill would provide federal protection to sex-selective abortions — the barbaric practice under which generations of girls have been decimated in such backward jurisdictions as China and Azerbaijan, a practice The Economist describes as “gendercide.” Laws restricting taxpayer funding of abortion would be overturned. Laws protecting the consciences of physicians who choose not to perform abortions would be overturned.
Not that the Democrats are much interested in such niceties, but there is little or nothing in the law or the Constitution that could be construed to empower the federal government to set aside, wholesale, state regulation of physicians and their work. The states license physicians and hospitals, and they have broad power over their standards and conduct. Even if one accepts the 1973 abortion decisions as fixed and eternal law handed down from on high, there is nothing in Roe v. Wade or its companion cases that establishes a constitutional preemption of state health and safety laws.
Senator Blumenthal’s bill requires that abortion not be subject to any restriction that is not also applicable to “comparable” medical procedures, but there is in fact no such thing as a comparable procedure, something recognized by the Supreme Court, which describes the act as “unique” and “inherently different” from other surgeries. And, of course, it is: Abortion is in almost no instance a therapeutic procedure — its usual motive is simply the termination of an inconvenient human life.
Morally literate people, including those who generally support abortion rights, understand that abortion is fundamentally unlike anything else doctors are commonly called upon to do, and that it is morally significant in a way a tonsillectomy is not. People of good will may disagree to some extent about the moral significance of what is maturing in a woman’s womb — but it is not an ingrown toenail, and all the Senate proclamations in the world will not change that fact.
By their fruits you shall know them: Senate Democrats have just recently blocked efforts to get to the bottom of the IRS political-persecution scandal and to hold VA officials accountable for the horrific treatment of American veterans — ho-hum issues for Senator Blumenthal and his colleagues. But if Texas decides that abortions performed within its borders must be carried out by a licensed physician in a proper surgical facility, then Democrats are on the march. Abortion is, to say the least, ugly. Democrats’ ghoulish enthusiasm for it is almost as ugly.