Emerson Radio Address: When a Law is Not a Law

Date: April 28, 2007
Issues: Abortion


"It sounds like a riddle, but this is no laughing matter: When is a law not really a law?

The answer: when the courts choose not to enforce it. Such is the case with Missouri's ban on the practice of partial-birth abortion, also known as dilation and extraction. This article of state law traveled a tumultuous path to the books. First, the bill passed by the Missouri state legislature in 1999 and was immediately vetoed by then-Governor Bob Holden. With more than two thirds of the state house voting to override the veto, the law then went on the books. Since 1999, however, the courts have ruled against the ban, placing it in a state of legal limbo.

In the meantime, I have voted again and again to pass similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. After sending bill after bill to the Senate to end the unnecessary practice of partial birth abortion, the issue was finally taken up and passed in 2003. President Bush signed the partial birth abortion ban into law.

Almost immediately, federal district courts in California and Nebraska fielded challenges to the law and overturned it, citing the precedent of Roe v. Wade.

So this law against an abhorrent procedure was never really enforced, though it was entrenched on the books in Missouri for eight years.

Last week, the status of Missouri's law was given a boost from the U.S. Supreme Court. In a five-to-four decision, the Court finally upheld the federal ban on partial birth abortion.

Because the federal ban and the Missouri law are so similar, the enforcement of the state statute is expected to take effect and to soon end the spate of legal challenges which have prevented its implementation.

The greater story here is a shift in the Supreme Court's view of restrictions on abortion. No longer can limitations on the practice of abortion be dismissed out of hand, as all U.S. courts must closely examine these kinds of cases with the Supreme Court ruling on partial birth abortion in mind. Pro-life advocates can mark this change in thinking as a hopeful sign that the highest court in the land, and others, will be open to future rulings that restrict the practice of abortion - especially when so many other ways exist to handle an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy.

In a culture that values innocent life, we are always fighting to emphasize the importance of seeking alternatives to abortion. Our laws ought to reflect this priority and recognize the willingness of American families to work together to raise a child or to adopt a baby. As we work to give all of our children better lives, the Supreme Court has now recognized that this work can begin in infancy and even before infancy, when the child is in the womb.

Partial birth abortion is little more than a cruel joke on a fetus in which the delivery of the child is induced moments before its life is ended. The baby, on its way into the world, experiences birth as little more than a formality.

Science and society have much better things to offer our children than abortion. Procedures such as partial birth abortion reject those promises of life in favor of the practice of morbid abortions. For years, our laws have reflected our desire to reduce abortions and to protect life in its earliest stages. Now, those laws have standing and bearing, and at long last we are making progress."