Pro-life Strategy and Last Night’s Debate

We have been having a stimulating debate under my last post about Ron Paul’s views on the constitution and abortion. I want to follow-up that discussion here in light of last night’s GOP debate.

Before doing that, however, let me clarify that I view this dispute as a disagreement among pro-lifers regarding strategy and constitutional interpretation. Pro-lifers can disagree over these issues and still be pro-life. It is counterproductive, therefore, to make arguments that begin with, “If you were really pro-life, then you would [adopt my point of view].” As pro-lifers, we can stipulate that we all believe that human life begins at conception and that legal abortion-on-demand is a grave evil that needs to end. Our disagreement is not about the morality of abortion but about constitutional interpretation and the best strategy to end legal abortion.

For those who are Christians, it’s also important to remember that these issues are prudential matters and not a test of orthodoxy. Christian pro-lifers can disagree over issues of strategy and constitutional interpretation without any necessary rift in fellowship. With those stipulations in mind, I hope we can have a frank and fruitful discussion about strategy and the Constitution.

Back to our recent discussion and last night’s debate. In last night’s GOP debate, Ron Paul again made the case against federal laws banning abortion (see video above). He argued that the matter should be turned over to the states. He argued that states would immediately be able to make laws against abortion by removing jurisdiction from federal courts to deal with the abortion issue. This argument is flawed on a number of levels:

(1) There is nothing “immediate” about this solution. The President cannot pass “The Sanctity of Life Act” by himself. Removing jurisdiction from the courts would still require an act of Congress. Congressman Paul has tried numerous times to introduce the “Sanctity of Life Act” to the Congress. Every attempt has ended with the bill dying in committee. I would love for such a bill to pass. But they’ve been trying to do it since 1995, and it has turned out to be a 17-year losing strategy. For Paul to offer this failed effort as his primary strategy to end abortion is not very compelling to most pro-lifers. Add to that the fact that he would not support Congressional restrictions of abortions based on the 14th amendment, and you’ll see why so many pro-lifers do not support his candidacy. There’s a reason that right to life groups only give Paul a 50% rating on his Congressional voting record. He repeatedly votes against federal restrictions on abortion.

(2) Even if the measure were to pass immediately, it could be repealed at any time by a majority united against it. Even if it were immediate, it would not be permanent.

(3) Even if the matter were turned over to the states, there would be no guarantee that any of the states would pass laws against abortion. In many states, it would not be an immediate solution but a permanent non-solution. States like California, New York, Massachusetts, and a host of others would likely allow abortion-on-demand to continue unabated. Ron Paul’s proposal would produce a situation in which women seeking abortions would simply travel to a nearby state where abortion is legal. A federal solution would produce a more comprehensive ban and avoid a Balkanization of America regarding its abortion laws.

(4) Ron Paul’s approach would exclude a whole class of persons from a Constitutionally guaranteed right to life. The fourteenth amendment guarantees that no person shall be deprived of life except by due process of law. Why would we exclude unborn persons from this protection? Ron Paul says that the fourteenth amendment doesn’t apply to the unborn, and I reiterate that I think he is wrong on this point.

Again, I am mainly concerned about policy not about politics, and I am not shilling for any particular candidate. I want the pro-life cause to have the strongest representative possible in the White House, and I don’t think Ron Paul is that person.


  • ndefalco

    Looks like the evangelicals’ campaign against Ron Paul might be successful. Between you, Chuck Colson, Justin Taylor, James Dobson, and many other like-minded neo-con evangelicals it will be just a matter of time now that Mitt Romney becomes the nominee. Good luck with a flip-flopping, government-loving slickster like Mitt. At least it’ll be fun to watch another boring old white guy Republican centrist (think Dole, McCain) go down in flames in the general election.

    You do realize that Ron Paul is the only Baptist on the stage now, right? And theologically, the only one who can legitimately say he is saved…

    *sigh* At least Voddie Baucham is thinking straight.

  • Andrew Lindsey

    The debate is not over who is saved, but over who has the correct interpretation of the proper federal role in regards to ensuring that “No State shall make or enforce any law” [which would] “deprive any person of life” without due process.

    • ndefalco

      My comment was directed at the general and perplexing stance that Dr. Burk and others have against Paul. It is even more perplexing when you think about how often Evangelicals have touted “their” candidate as being a genuine Christian. Now that seems not to matter. My only explanation to this (Dr. Burk’s are not even remotely convincing) is that Dr. Paul is against warmongering in the Middle East. It seems to be standard procedure now for most conservative evangelicals to be pro-war and to meddle in the affairs of people who have NEVER ATTACKED US. Most likely this is in support for Israel (a country that is not any more open to Christian missionaries than their Muslim enemies) and a quiet confirmation that we have bought into the hysteria surrounding the War on Terror.

      So, digresses aside, this post may be specifically about that amendment, but it is also about Dr. Burk’s general attitude toward Dr. Paul. Granted, he has been critical of other candidates, but I just don’t understand his criticism of Paul.

      • Denny Burk


        Would you mind using your name in your posts? (see my comments policy)

        I am grateful that Dr. Paul is pro-life. I just think his strategy is all wrong and so is his reading of the Constitution. I am an originalist, and I do not think the authors of the 14th amendment intended to exclude any class of persons from the word “person” in that amendment. So there is a constitutional protection that is really in there for the unborn.

        Dr. Paul’s response is that the 14th amendment shouldn’t trump the 10th amendment. Yet he is trying to make the 10th amendment trump the 14th. The 10th amendment says “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

        The section 5 of the fourteenth amendment explicitly delegates power to the federal government to . It says, “The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” So the Congress has power to enforce “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

        Dr. Paul’s approach to the 14th amendment shows that he’s not even taking the 10th amendment seriously since the 10th amendment allows Congress to act with respect to delegated powers.


  • William Bennet

    Honestly Denny, this is getting ridiculous. I’m trying to figure out if you’re just arrogant, genuinely misinformed, or just trying to drive traffic to your blog. On your points:

    1) He didn’t claim this would be an “immediate” solution. He said if we could get it passed the States would “immediately” be able to act. Another misrepresentation from you.

    2) This is the case for any measure, and it would be the same for whatever solution you propose – short of an amendment.

    3) IT’S NOT ABOUT STATES PASSING LAWS AGAINST ABORTION! THE CHOICE FOR THE STATES IS TO WHAT DEGREE THEY WOULD ENFORCE THIS PARTICULAR MURDER LAW! Would it be 10 years? 20 years? Death sentence? If you kill a human being you go to jail or face the death penalty! That is the key to Paul’s plan. If you have a Federal law that declares life beginning at conception, then abortion is murder. The States then have the responsibility to enforce said murder laws (as they do most murder laws now). This doesn’t give them the choice of whether or not they can make abortion legal, it would already be illegal! It would be murder!

    4) HE SUPPORTS A FEDERAL AMENDMENT! I think this is the 4th or 5th time someone has educated you on this particular misrepresentation. He is simply a realist, and knows that it’s unlikely to happen unless a ground swell of support rises up from the people. He is offering a alternative, tangible solution to save lives in the meantime. I simply do not comprehend how you can’t understand this.

    I am baffled at the constant posturing about a Federal amendment and appointing Justices. READ YOUR HISTORY! HOW’S THAT WORKED FOR YA? THAT IS NOT THE ANSWER AND IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. How can you possibly keep suggesting that it’s so preposterous to get a “We The People” or “Sanctity Of Life” act passed, when what you’re suggesting is FAR LESS LIKELY. 40 years of history is against you. Ron Paul is the only born-again Christian on that stage, and the only one with a plan to save lives. And he’s been fighting this battle since 1976. It’s simply the truth.

  • Thomas K.

    Denny, first of all you never had a “stimulating debate” on your last post, you threw out a few caustic lines that were quickly debunked then you clammed up and avoided all serious discussion.

    Are you seriously throwing out the “it will be defeated in the Senate” argument? So you think enforcing your vision of the 14th amendment is the way to go when there is NO serious support to do so? You can see from the replies that your readers (including me) can see straight through this phony reasoning.

    • Thomas K.

      In my first paragraph, I confused your Facebook “debate” with your post debate so I withdraw it. My second paragraph stands.

      • Denny Burk

        One more thing, even if my some miracle we could get Paul’s Congressional strategy to work, that’s not an end game. All that would do is send it back to the states, some of which would still allow abortion-on-demand to remain legal. Eliminating Roe v. Wade is not an end game, but a first step toward making abortion illegal nationwide. To ban abortions in states that will not outlaw it, we will need to press the case for federal protection under the 14th amendment.

    • Denny Burk

      Thomas, I am not arguing that there is sufficient support right now in Congress for either proposal. It’s Ron Paul who is claiming that we can eliminate Roe v. Wade “overnight” through Congressional action.

      But Congressional action to overturn Roe v. Wade is not going to happen overnight. Anybody who thinks that it will has not been paying attention to Congress for the last thirty years. Any Congressional action to eliminate Roe v. Wade would be a legislative nuclear option. The Republicans may win a bare Senate majority in the next election, but that is by no means certain. The GOP will not have a filibuster-proof majority for the foreseeable future (and make no mistake, eliminating Roe v. Wade would require a filibuster-proof majority). Ron Paul’s proposal is not going to happen “overnight.” Someone could write a bill to eliminate Roe v. Wade, but it would be dead on arrival with no foreseeable prospects for its resuscitation.

      I’m all for eliminating Roe v. Wade and sending it back to the states. If Ron Paul thinks his plan is a good one, he doesn’t have to be President to make it happen. As a Congressman, he can write the bill and send it on up through the process (here’s a primer on how a bill becomes a law). He’s already tried it numerous times, and it has died in committee every time. It has been a losing strategy in the past, and I don’t see any prospects for it in the future. It’s one thing to argue about what Congress should do. It’s another thing to face up to the reality of what Congress will do.


  • Evan

    Denny, I support Ron Paul and I thank you for bringing up this particular issue because I think Ron Paul has been a bit confusing on this issue. My understanding of Paul’s view is this:

    1. He believes (like Santorum said) human life and personhood should be defined at the federal level to start at conception. This is evidenced by his re-writing and introducing the “Sanctity of Life Act” multiple times.

    2. This therefore would immediately grant all unborn children the unalienable right to life as guaranteed by the constitution in all states. Taking that life would be murder. This would essentially bypass waiting against hope of getting enough pro-life judges to overturn Roe vs Wade and nullify it with a majority vote in congress. This congress can do according to Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution.

    3. According to the constitution then, enforcement and punishment on particular crimes is a states issue and the severity of the crime could vary from state to state. This is what Paul is talking about in the above video I believe, though I am not sure why he didn’t affirm what Santorum said about defining life at the federal level then go on to clarify his approach.

    That is my understanding of his view but it gets confusing when he rejects that the 14th amendment has anything to say on this issue as you are pointing out.

    In the end I think he is trying to be precise to his interpretation of the constitution. All he is saying is that the federal government should define life at conception but that the federal government should not make specific laws about abortion. That might seem like a contradiction but there is a difference between the two.

    He has signed the Personhood USA pledge with an addendum, and then there was some push back from Personhood USA and he clarified more here.

    • Denny Burk


      Ron Paul has tried numerous times to introduce the “Sanctity of Life Act” to the Congress. Every attempt has ended with the bill dying in committee. I would love for such a bill to pass. But they’ve been trying to do it since 1995, and it has turned out to be a 17-year losing strategy. For Paul to offer this failed effort as his primary strategy to end abortion is not very compelling to most pro-lifers.

      Add to that the fact that he would not support Congressional restrictions of abortions based on the 14th amendment, and you’ll see why so many pro-lifers do not support his candidacy. There’s a reason that right to life groups only give Paul a 50% rating on his Congressional voting record. He repeatedly votes against federal restrictions on abortion.


  • Ian Hugh Clary

    Though, of the four remaining candidates, he’s probably second best after Rick Santorum. I really don’t trust Newt for anything, and Mitt’s not been consistent with his stance on the life issue. We can admit, though, that Paul would put in pro-life judges were he president. Also, in regard to executive powers, he said that he would only ever once use the executive order as President, only to get rid of the President’s ability to use executive orders from that point forward. That would help in the over-turning process if he did give state’s the right to govern themselves on this issue.

    • Denny Burk

      On the pro-life issue, I rank Paul last among those left in the race. Santorum is clearly the strongest pro-lifer left in the race.

      Gingrich and Romney would be second and third. Both of them would toe the pro-life line (at the very least) all through their first term. They would have to in order to get reelected. I think Gingrich would probably be fine on this issue in a second term, but I’m not so sure about Romney. Like many people, I’m dubious about his pro-life conversion story. I hope it’s true, but it’s hard to tell. If it’s not true, there’s no telling what he would do in a second term when he’s not facing reelection. He could put the issue on the backburner or ignore it altogether.

      Paul on the other hand would not support federal laws restricting abortion in any term. And the strategy he has proposed to end abortion has already been tried for the last 17 years and has failed. So I put him last.


  • donsands

    I think our Lord would work through Ron Paul the most to do away with abortion in this nation. He has the most integrity, and he loves life, and he cares about babies.

  • John Gardner

    I’m late to the party, but having read your recent posts on the abortion issue, and the comments threads, there’s one thing that I’ve not seen posted. I wonder whether you have read through Paul’s chapter on Abortion from his recent book “Liberty Defined”. It’s available online here: http://inthearena.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/26/rep-ron-paul-announces-his-presidential-exploratory-committee-writes-about-abortion/

    I’d be interested in hearing you interact with his arguments in the book, as they are fleshed out much better there than I’ve seen elsewhere.

    Thanks for the consistently thought-provoking blog (and gracious responses to comments)!

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