On November 5, I stood behind President George W. Bush as he signed into law the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. The president’s signature marks a victorious end to an emotional legislative campaign that began in 1995 to outlaw an especially brutal abortion procedure. Another important outcome of this debate is that more than 70 percent of Americans now recognize that the practice has no place in a compassionate, humane society—a significant first step toward restoring a culture that respects all innocent human life.
The fact is, people know evil when they see it. We live in a free, democratic society that finally has said no to this gruesome and unnecessary procedure in which a baby who is inches from being delivered is painfully killed. And while this rogue procedure, which has been compared to infanticide in many ways, goes beyond Roe v. Wade, it shows how the poison of Roe has infected us all.
Abortion is the great moral issue of our day. Thirty years ago in 1973, seven men on the U.S. Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade decision found a new constitutional right to abortion based on the 14th Amendment—the liberty clause—and took the power to preserve our moral code away from the American people and their elected representatives.
In Roe, the High Court twisted and tangled the Constitution beyond recognition. The Founding Fathers said that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—in that order. They listed them that way because one flows from the other. Without life, there is no liberty, and without liberty, there is no happiness. First among these rights is not liberty—it is the right to life.
But in the Roe decision, the justices said that the right to liberty for some trumps the right to life for others. The result is tremendous pain across the land from 40 million–plus abortions and countless other social ills that have been exacerbated by this silent massacre.
Those who proclaimed the “virtue” of abortion as a right 30 years ago said it would be a blessing to our society. They argued that in ridding ourselves of 1.3 million babies a year—25 percent of all pregnancies end in abortion—we would remove unwanted burdens in family’s lives that cause negative behaviors. Consequently, they predicted, rates of divorce, spousal abuse, infant abuse, and child abuse all would drop. On the contrary, they have significantly increased since 1973.
Unfortunately, Americans learned a far different lesson from the legacy of Roe. They learned from our leaders that the value of life, especially of the most vulnerable in our society, was diminished, and that their personal liberty was more important than another person’s life. And this is especially clear in the practice of partial-birth abortion.
Of the thousands of babies killed by partial-birth abortion, a small number are fetuses with abnormalities, babies targeted for the late-term procedure because the culture says they are “imperfect.” For this reason, they are denied the opportunity to live whatever length of life is granted them. This is unacceptable. All children are God’s creation.
Enactment of the partial-birth abortion ban, with an exception for the life of the mother, took nearly a decade of hard work. Before final passage in October, legislation banning partial-birth abortion was approved by the 104th, 105th, and 106th Congresses but never signed. In the 107th, the House passed the bill, but then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) blocked Senate action.
Even now, we still face the threat of a Supreme Court challenge, despite the fact that the 2003 legislation was redrafted specifically to mitigate concerns the High Court had with a Nebraska law prohibiting the partial-birth abortion procedure. In that case, known as Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme Court’s ruling cited two points of contention, both of which have been addressed in the new law.
Indeed, the strength of our argument against partial-birth abortion is evidenced by the sizeable margin of victory on the bill’s final passage (64-34 in the Senate and 281-142 in the House). It is worth noting that of the 64 senators who voted for the ban, many regard themselves as pro-choice but recognize that this particular procedure is in fact comparable to infanticide.
The partial-birth abortion ban is an important victory in the struggle to protect innocent human life at all stages. The public is starting to understand what the Founders understood—that all rights begin with life.