Jacob Sullum

In both cases, opponents of the ban ended up looking like hysterical extremists, while the advocates looked like moderates. From the choice of terminology to the use of pictures intended to horrify, the ban campaigns were tactically brilliant.

Still, there are some significant differences. For one thing, the right to keep and bear arms has an explicit basis in the Constitution, while the right to have an abortion does not, Roe v. Wade notwithstanding. (Then again, both bans are unconstitutional for a different reason: They far exceed Congress's authority to regulate interstate commerce, since they extend to purely intrastate activity.)

Another difference between the two bans is that supporters of the abortion bill are more honest than the anti-gun activists about what they're trying to accomplish. President Bush, who is expected to sign the bill soon, called it "very important legislation that will end an abhorrent practice and continue to build a culture of life in America."

That "culture of life" presumably will include the recognition that D&E abortions are just as bad as D&X abortions. If killing a fetus is murder, doing it hidden from view does not make it OK.

During the debate over the bill, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., displayed a photograph of a 21-week-old fetus who had suffered from a birth defect that was surgically corrected in the uterus. "Is little Samuel's hand the hand of a person," he asked, "or is it the hand of a piece of property?"

Strictly speaking, the question was not relevant to the legislation at hand, which does not forbid the killing of 21-week-old fetuses, provided an approved method is used. But that very inadequacy will make Brownback's question harder to avoid in the future.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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