Dobbs was a victory for the pro-life movement, ending a nationwide judicial ban on legislation to protect unborn humans. However, while it allowed the states to pass pro-life legislation, that’s all it did—allowed the unborn to be protected. Instead of being at the mercy of nine unelected justices, unborn humans are now at the mercy of voters across the country, including in states like California, New York, and Washington.
It’s not enough to allow human rights to be voted up or down in various states. It is the responsibility of the federal government to protect the human rights of unborn children across the nation.
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Many who identify as pro-life or conservative are uncomfortable with this idea because they tend to favor limited government for fear of authoritarian practices, but allowing states to gruesomely violate the rights of the unborn is oppressive in itself.
So, we’ll address two political perspectives that lend themselves to this kind of thinking and explain why people who hold these perspectives should favor federal protection of the unborn.
Libertarianism Requires Laws Against Violence
One political perspective that may lead people to favor state-level abortion laws is libertarianism. Libertarians are in favor of limiting government control over individuals, especially regarding political freedoms such as bodily autonomy. Most libertarians think that the government shouldn’t be involved in abortion at all. Some people like to say that this is a middle-ground stance, but it is quite literally a pro-choice stance. They’re protecting a woman’s right to bodily autonomy—a woman’s right to make choices without government interference—and neglecting the right of unborn children to not be intentionally killed. That’s pro-choice. What these libertarians fail to see is that bodily autonomy is super important, but to preserve one person’s bodily autonomy over another’s is authoritarian—the exact thing libertarians fear.
Take the issue of slavery. In 19th century America, the legality of slavery differed state-to-state, but even free states were still obligated to respect slavery in other states and to return runaway slaves to their “owners,” thereby being complicit in slavery. The slavery debate was about whether states’ rights to self-governance superseded the responsibility of the federal government to protect human rights, in addition to the morality of slavery itself. Slavery is gross and unjust, and, thankfully, the slaves were emancipated and slavery was made illegal. Some might even say that it’s now unthinkable because it’s seen as so evil in our society. But in order for systemic slavery to be eradicated in the US, there needed to be strong, lasting, federal legislation—a constitutional amendment—protecting individuals’ rights not to be a slave.
Having laws against abortion isn’t contradictory to libertarian beliefs. Libertarians are already in favor of laws—even federal ones—against slavery, rape, and the murder of born people, holding that one person doesn’t have the right to overpower another and violate their bodily autonomy. If unborn humans are persons, then, according to libertarians’ own principles, abortion should be illegal, and the rights of unborn humans should be protected by the federal government.
The Principle of Subsidiarity Doesn’t Prevent Federal Intervention
Many pro-lifers are also conservatives who hold to the principle of subsidiarity. Essentially, this is the idea that it’s preferable to divert power to smaller, more local governments over larger, centralized governments whenever possible. This is so that harmful or authoritarian laws, regulations, and policies are more difficult to implement and so that, in the event they are implemented, the people can more easily reverse them. This principle can make sense and be very effective with issues like education, conducting elections, and more, but human rights issues like abortion shouldn’t simply be left to the states.
During the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Douglas declared that he didn’t “care whether slavery is voted up or down” since it’s an issue for states to decide for themselves. But Lincoln responded that this only makes sense if you don’t believe that slavery is wrong, because if it is wrong, nobody should have a right to do wrong. Lincoln didn’t believe that governments had the power to create a real right to do a wrong when it came to slavery, and neither do state governments have the power to create a right to abortion, since abortion is morally wrong.
This is not to say that these issues are the same, but both slavery and abortion are human rights violations that were/are justified by the idea that the victims were/are not the same kind of human as the oppressors, or that they’re not really people. It’s necessary to recognize personhood to protect human rights, and this needs to happen on a national level. The country might be made of many towns, cities, and states, but it’s still one united country, so abortion continues to impact our country even if it’s banned in some states. The United States did not uphold human rights when it allowed slavery in some states; neither does it truly uphold human rights when it allows abortion in some states today.
The Federal Goal: A Human Life Amendment
The legislation we need is a national Human Life Amendment that affirms the right to life from fertilization. This will protect all unborn lives in a long-lasting way because it’s difficult to overturn, and the Court won’t be able to discover a “right to abortion” when a constitutional amendment explicitly bars it. But in order to get this amendment passed and ratified, we need overwhelming support from the American people and politicians. As we saw from the 2022 election, we’re not there yet. We need to actually change people’s minds on the issue of abortion.
In the meantime, we can use state laws to save some of the unborn now, even if the laws don’t protect all of them. But we should remember that these state laws are a stepping stone; national human rights protections for the unborn is the endgame.
Of course, the passage of the Human Life Amendment doesn’t mean that there won’t still be work to do for the pro-life movement. Education, charitable and governmental assistance for families with very young children, keeping public opinion against abortion, and more will all still be necessary. But as far as legislation against abortion itself, the Human Life Amendment is our goal—and we should recognize that.
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The post Ending Abortion Requires Federal Action, Not Just State Laws originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”