The US Constitution protects both the right to bear arms and the right of women to an abortion. But despite similar constitutional protections, governments at both state and federal levels have erected numerous laws determining whether, when and under what circumstances a woman may obtain an abortion. Just as the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion, 32 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of state funds for an abortion except where the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Forty-one states prohibit abortions after a specified point in the pregnancy, often fetal viability, except when necessary to protect the woman’s life or health. Arkansas sports the most restrictive law, allowing women to exercise their constitutional right only through the 6th week of pregnancy. Forty-six states allow individual health care providers to refuse to participate in an abortion, while 43 states allow institutions to refuse to perform abortions. Twenty-six states require a woman seeking an abortion to wait a specified period of time, usually 24 hours, between when she receives counseling and the procedure is performed. Nine of these states have laws that effectively require the woman to make two separate trips to the clinic to obtain the procedure. Some have gone so far as to suggest requiring invasive and unnecessary procedures, from vaginal ultrasounds to complete hospital conditions for abortion clinics.
Rather than trying to persuade women not to get an abortion, once the main approach of pro-lifers, thus curtailing demand based on a moral argument, the current approach seeks to use laws and regulations to restrict the supply of abortion and make it exceedingly difficult for women to exercise their legal right. Apparently, laws are so restrictive in the state of Mississippi that only one abortion clinic operates in the state. But it is not clear whether such restrictions will prevent women who want an abortion from actually getting one; instead, as Chris Matthews recently noted, it may just be punishing them by increasing the costs in terms of time, money, and inconvenience for exercising their constitutional right.
In a somewhat similar manner, despite the constitutional protection to bear arms, government restricts the right to guns. Felons cannot buy guns legally, and sales of certain types of weapons are banned. But the differences here far outweigh the similarities. The limitations on this constitutional provision are relatively few. Generally, guns are much easier to obtain than abortions, not just in Mississippi but throughout the country. The restrictions on the suppliers are limited (hence gun shows), and buyers are not harassed with invasive probes.
Interestingly, many of those who support using the law to limit the constitutional right to an abortion oppose any similar use of the law to restrict the constitutional right to bear arms. Their opposition to abortion is built on moral grounds, which is certainly understandable and defensible, but their opposition to more restrictive gun laws rests on the constitutional provision. Opposition to: thorough background checks, a ban on certain sized magazines or assault weapons, registration of guns, liability insurance for gun owners, certified training for gun owners, stricter laws to prevent the unauthorized sale of guns, penalties for selling guns to terrorists, etc. are vehemently opposed by many precisely because it violates the 2nd amendment to the Constitution. Of course, such laws would not ban the right of citizens to own a gun, but would merely provide legal parameters for exercising that constitutional right. In that the great majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens, then they should not fear any of these restrictions. Many politicians and the NRA leadership, of course, oppose many if not all of these measures simply because they limit the constitutional right, and because of some teleological insight that this is the first step in repealing the second amendment. Of course, no one has suggested that it be repealed (I do – see the subsequent blog). And yet many of these same politicians have no problem whatsoever with limiting a women’s constitutional right to privacy.
If protecting a constitutional right is the foundation for the argument to oppose gun laws, then why is it not a compelling argument against laws limiting the right of women to exercise their right to an abortion? How can you support limitations to a constitutional right in one case, but oppose it in another? If the moral argument trumps the constitutional right on the abortion issue, then consistency demands that you frame your opposition to gun laws on moral grounds. So what is the moral argument against banning assault weapons?