Jacob Sullum

            During the commencement speech in which President Obama urged greater civility in the abortion debate, he was interrupted by cries of “baby killer,” “abortion is murder,” “stop killing our children,” and “you have blood on your hands.” The passion displayed by the protesters at the University of Notre Dame on Sunday suggests that calling for “open hearts, open minds, [and] fair-minded words” will get you only so far on this subject.

            To his credit, Obama acknowledged as much. “No matter how much we may want to fudge it,” he said, “the fact is that at some level the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.” But he did not acknowledge the extent to which he and other supporters of abortion rights have contributed to the rancor by federalizing an issue that should be left to the states.

            For the last 36 years, on the strength of a hazily reasoned Supreme Court ruling, federal judges have been micromanaging state abortion regulations, deciding which are justified and which go too far. Since the U.S. Constitution does not address abortion one way or another, these determinations seem arbitrary, driven by individual policy preferences instead of intellectually honest legal interpretation.

This usurpation explains why we do not think it odd for presidents (or presidential candidates) to make pronouncements about an issue that is beyond the powers granted to the federal government by the Constitution. For his part, Obama surely plans to nominate a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter who will provide a reliable fifth vote for upholding Roe v. Wade. His supporters would be outraged if he didn’t. Anti-abortion activists will be outraged when he does.

Jacob Sullum

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