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Frank Pavone: How Abortion Ballot Initiatives Deprive the American People of a Robust Debate

  |   By Lou Dobbs Staff

Guest Post by Pro-life Leader Frank Pavone, National Director, Priests for Life

Priests for Life is among the leading groups working nationally and on the state level on various abortion-related ballot initiatives that will or may be on the ballot this Fall in several states.

These initiatives, with some variations, attempt to claim something that Supreme Court jurisprudence of the last 50 years did not claim, namely, that abortion is a fundamental right subject to few, if any, restrictions.

The Supreme Court, under its numerous abortion decisions, always considered the abortion “right” subject to reasonable limitations. Even Roe vs. Wade stated, “[S]ome … argue that the woman’s right is absolute and that she is entitled to terminate her pregnancy at whatever time, in whatever way, and for whatever reason she alone chooses. With this we do not agree.”

And Planned Parenthood vs. Casey in 1992 introduced a novel, ambiguous “undue burden” standard regarding abortion laws. For all its ambiguity, what was perfectly clear was that abortion was not a “fundamental right.”

And the American people have agreed with limitations on abortion, for instance, regarding parental involvement, limits on abortion in the latter months of pregnancy, especially when the unborn can feel pain and survive an early delivery, health and safety regulations for abortion clinics, requirements that only doctors perform abortions, and limits on taxpayer funding of abortion.

The abortion ballot initiatives in several states this year seek, for the most part, to eliminate even the most reasonable restrictions and limitations, contrary to established state law and strong public opinion.

A second characteristic common to these initiatives is that they deprive American citizens of an honest, robust, participatory debate on abortion. These initiatives do not simply seek to create public policy on abortion. They seek to short-circuit the legislative process by putting the “right to abortion” into state Constitutions.

This cuts off debate. By means of a few lines of text that most voters will not even have read, much less debated and considered, a policy will be embedded in the state Constitution that will then prohibit any further laws from extending protection to children in the womb or to the mothers who undergo the abortion procedure.

New medical and scientific information that comes to the state legislatures regarding the nature and development of the baby in the womb, or the harmful effects of abortion on women’s health, will not even be able to be considered, much less become the motive for new legislation, because the Constitution will be saying “Hands off abortion policy – you can’t change it!”

Not a single state Constitution in our nation’s entire history has ever expressed a “right to abortion.” Why now?

The Supreme Court, in Dobbs, left it to the people and their elected representatives to shape abortion policy, recognizing that an issue on which Americans have such deeply-held and varied beliefs should enjoy wide-open and detailed debate and analysis, for which legislatures are much better equipped than courts. If supporters of abortion want unlimited abortion, the legislatures are open for business. Introduce a bill. Let there be hearings. Let it be debated and let there be a vote.

By contrast, these ballot initiatives try to rush a process that hamstrings legitimate and open legislative debates. The American people deserve better, especially for such a crucial life-and-death issue.

Priests for Life is working with state and national leaders to defeat these ballot initiatives wherever they are being introduced, and to help the American people understand their implications before it is too late.

Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life and the national pastoral director of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries and the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. The books he has authored include Abolishing Abortion and Proclaiming the Message of Life.

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