The Next Steps on Abortion

By Staff | March 29, 2010 | 3:59 PM EDT

By Helen M. Alvare

Since the night of March 21, conversations in pro-life quarters are dominated by speculation as to why Representative Bart Stupak ultimately abandoned his epic campaign to guarantee that our nation’s new health care regime would avoid channeling new federal dollars into abortion, and protect health care workers’ consciences.
Few pro-life activists and scholars really believe that Stupak sold his soul for $7,000 odd dollars of airport projects in Michigan.  Equally few believe that Stupak was actually convinced that the promised presidential executive order could legally accomplish what Stupak’s amendment to the House bill certainly could.  That leaves enormous party pressure as the likely culprit.
Yet as psychologically and politically arresting as these speculations are, the pro-life movement shouldn’t make the mistake of lingering over them. It’s time to take the political and moral capital we managed to garner during the health care battle, and use these where they can do some good: legislation to apply the safeguards of the Hyde Amendment and of various federal conscience laws to every area of our new health care apparatus where they’re needed.  
Recent statements by none other than President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid have given Hyde Amendment funding limits new visibility and robust credibility. It’s as if suddenly everybody’s on board with the idea that while abortion is legal, we certainly don’t want to fund it broadly! 
It doesn’t even matter that Obama, Pelosi and Reid’s endorsement of Hyde-type funding limits were made in the course of their mischaracterizing the abortion-related contents of the Senate health care bill.  Or that President Obama’s most recent invocation of the Hyde Amendment was in his health care executive order which is quite unlikely to legally alter what the newly signed health care law actually does respecting abortion funding. 

Throughout the health care debate to today, it has been clear – via polling and public reaction – that strict limits on government funding for abortion is a popular concept.
Its popularity did not emerge out of thin air. It has been growing for a while.  Polls over the last few years have shown a growing percentage of voters willing to assume the “pro-life” label.  The nearly decade-long debate over partial-birth abortion -- a form of abortion where the fetal head is stabbed while nearly completely delivered of the mother – and the Supreme Court’s unsparing description of this procedure in its Gonzales v. Carhart opinion, received widespread media coverage.

So did Justice Ginsburg’s frank admission to the New York Times  (Magazine, July 7, 2009) that she had always assumed that Roe v. Wade was intended to “set up Medicaid funding for abortion” for “populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” 
After 37 years of legal abortion, perhaps the country is finally understanding it not in terms of “rights” and “progress,” but in terms of violence, poverty and loss.  Who wants to put the government behind that? Not President Obama, Speaker Pelosi or Senator Reid.  So now is the time to legislate based upon their promises, and the nation’s growing disaffection with abortion itself.

Helen M. Alvare is an associate professor of law at George Mason University in Arlington, Va.