Abortion-rights activists are celebrating this afternoon in the wake of the news that a federal court has struck down a provision of a controversial Texas law. This seems like sweet revenge for the many liberals (especially those in the media) who applauded State Senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster of the first attempt by Republicans to get a controversial bill through the Texas legislature. Unlike fellow Texan Ted Cruz, whose anti-ObamaCare filibuster was widely reviled in the mainstream media, Davis’s attempt to obstruct the bill imposing new regulations on abortion clinics and restrictions on late-term abortion made her a national star and a likely Democratic candidate for governor. Any chipping away at the legislation, which was eventually passed when the legislature reconvened in Austin, is going to be treated as a victory for the pro-choice side of the abortion debate.
But those cheering this development should take a deep breath. Federal District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled the bill’s provision demanding that all doctors performing abortions in Texas have admitting privileges at hospitals was an unreasonable restriction of abortion rights. But the main parts of the legislation remain in place. Texas abortion clinics are still required to meet the health standards required of all ambulatory surgery centers. More importantly, the ban on abortions after 20 weeks—the point where modern medical science has largely rendered fetuses viable outside the womb—is also unchallenged. As such, the key issues involved in the debate about the Texas law are still on the table.
Critics of the Texas law are not off base when they claim that it is an attempt to make abortions more difficult to obtain. Rather than trying to overturn the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, pro-lifers have cleverly refocused their efforts in recent years on issues where they can count on the support of most Americans. While support for first-term abortion is still a mainstream political reality, groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood that have become the political engines of the pro-choice side have been slow to realize that late-term abortions are a very different thing in the eyes of most Americans. Once a healthy fetus is old enough to survive on its own, abortion becomes less a matter of a “choice” than infanticide. Moreover, the Gosnell case and other similar instances of abortion clinic horrors have brought into focus the way that industry clearly requires the sort of regulation that will bring it into line with the standards hospitals and other health-care providers are expected to meet.
The Texas law’s hospital admission provision may well have been excessive since qualified doctors practicing medicine could well do so without being affiliated with a hospital. But the key issues here are stopping late-term abortions and making the people who own abortion clinics—generally a highly profitable business—assure the public that they are not harboring more Gosnells. Nothing in the Texas decision changes that. That means that while Wendy Davis’s fans may be encouraged today, they need to remember that the important aspects of the Texas law they have tried so hard to trash remains in place. More than that, they should comprehend that the growing understanding of the barbarity of late-term abortion means they are on the wrong side of history as well as morality.