I wrote last week about Governor Rick Perry’s walk-back of his comments about gay marriage. At a recent fundraiser, he invoked the 10th amendment to argue that New York’s decision to legalize gay marriage was just “fine” with him. He later told Tony Perkins that he merely meant to express his belief in the right of individual states to decide such matters.
Now Perry has done it again. A few days ago in remarks to reporters in Houston, Perry invoked the 10th amendment again to say that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the matter should then be decided by the voters in each state. Presumably, then, just like with his view on gay marriage, abortion could be legal in some states but illegal in others. It would just depend on the voters of each state. In his own words:
“You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don’t. You can’t believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then [for] something that doesn’t suit you say, ‘We’d rather not have states decide that.'”
I know that Governor Perry has been a friend of the pro-life cause, and I am grateful for that. But the pro-life cause cannot be reduced to a concern for states rights. If Roe v. Wade were overturned, the matter would indeed go back to the states. Nevertheless, a principled pro-life person will not be content until life is protected in every state of the union. That is why pro-lifers by and large would support a human life amendment to the Constitution.
But Perry’s remarks reveal once again that he has not fully grasped the fundamental issue. Is he really taking the position that would allow unborn babies to be killed in some states and not in others? Does he not see that his position is not only morally absurd but that it is also unconstitutional?
Robert P. George has responded to Rick Perry, and he correctly explains that the abortion issue is not a “states rights” issue. George writes:
“It is important for Governor Perry and for all Americans to recognize the responsibility of the national government under Section 5 of the 14th Amendment to ensure that the guarantees of Section 1 of that Amendment are honored by all 50 states. Those guarantees include the following: ‘nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ As a matter of indisputable scientific fact, the child in the womb is a living human being. As a matter of moral truth, deeply embedded in our legal and constitutional traditions, all human beings are persons. Thus, by the clearest logical implication, the national government is empowered and obligated by our Constitution to ensure that unborn human persons are protected in their most fundamental right—the right to life. Because this is an expressly delegated power, there is no 10th Amendment basis for denying or relieving the national government of its responsibilities, along with the states, to protect the child in the womb.”
I am hoping that Governor Perry will rethink his frequent appeals to the 10th amendment. His appeals to “states rights” are coming off as a way to punt the ball on second down. He is avoiding the real moral questions at stake when he does this, and he comes across as an ineffective spokesman for the most important moral issues of our time.