For four decades now, pro-life voters have been wedded to the national Republican Party by the vows of politicians whose actions, upon election, have proved that they had no intention ever of fulfilling them. Every two or four or six years, they would swear to defend the lives of the unborn, and then, after taking the oath of office once again, find that other matters took precedence. Even in the six years from 2001 to 2007 that the Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, the defense of torture and the indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations in the name of national defense (all while avoiding the dreaded words radical Islam) took so much time that the closest the George W. Bush administration could come to legislation concerning life issues was the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which simply resulted in abortuaries killing the child in the womb before performing a late-term abortion, and President George W. Bush’s executive order authorizing federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research—not exactly a pro-life measure.
Yet over the past several years, the story at the state level has been more encouraging. Rather than attempting to outlaw abortion altogether, pro-life state legislators have taken a rhetorical card from Bill Clinton’s deck. While the former president established his New Democrat credentials by declaring that he wanted abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare,” his emphasis always fell on the middle term. State laws emphasizing the first term, however, have succeeded in reducing the number of abortion clinics across the United States to a new low. That reduction was easy to achieve, because, despite what Planned Parenthood would like you to believe, they and other abortion providers have never been overly concerned about the safety of the women who walk through their doors.
But all of those pro-life advances at the state level were lost in one fell swoop on June 27, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion written by—who else?—the Republican-appointed Justice Anthony Kennedy, declared that another Kennedy-authored opinion, 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, prohibited such commonsense legislation as requiring abortuaries to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, those outpatient facilities where one might, say, go to have a mole removed. Half of these United States had passed such laws in recent years; all of those laws are likely now to fall.
The pro-life movement now finds itself back in the last days of 1989, when the excitement that summer in the wake of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services turned to dismay after the case of Turnock v. Ragsdale was unexpectedly settled out of court under pressure from the first Bush administration, which did not want to risk the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned. The settlement involved the designation in Illinois law of abortuaries as a new type of “lightly regulated” ambulatory surgical center that did not have to meet the standards of safety and hygiene of the fully regulated ones. The Illinois example quickly became the standard across the country; it was only in recent years that the tide had once again turned.
The settling of Turnock bought the Bush administration enough time to get the “stealth justice” David Souter onto the bench before the next major case—Justice Kennedy’s magnum opus, Casey—would be heard by the Court. And now Kennedy’s latest triumph, the absurdly named Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, joins Roe and Casey as the third jewel in the triple crown of Republican-appointed abortion jurisprudence.