No practical electoral comparison between “personhood” and “ultrasound” bill


    by Paul Goldman

    There is a big difference between a bill that amounts to bad science in practical affect and one that incorporates bad politics in terms of where the rubber meets the road in elections. The 1,000 Alice Paul’s who took time out of their lives to come to Richmond to bring some sense into the male-dominated General Assembly are heroes in my book. Indeed as I have said for years now, Virginia needs to honor the great females leaders of the state over the years with a monument on the Capitol Grounds. It is shameful they don’t have their own monument to all women have done for this state and country.

    Why aren’t women demanding this? I made this suggestion a few years ago, got some calls from national folks, but couldn’t find any women to follow through on it. It can’t be my project.

    Now, as to personhood and ultrasound.

    As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor pointed out in the 1989 Webster case, the kind of language in Bob Marshall’s personhood bill, when put in the preamble to the Statutes of Missouri, had no force and effect. I know that is hard for non-lawyers to understand, but it is disturbing to me to read where so many lawyers are claiming otherwise or are trying to make it appear otherwise.

    Now I understand those who refuse to listen to what Chief Justice Rehnquist had to say in the opinion he wrote for the Court on the issue of the language in Bob Marshall’s bill taken he says from the Missouri at issue there. In my own view, Justice Stevens’ wrote the best opinion in dissent, and it is worth the read.

    But Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was a supporter of Roe v. Wade – she had the swing vote in a lot of those cases – and surely an advocate for women’s rights from her days in Arizona.

    Now the Marshall bill is actually not precisely the same as the Missouri preamble at issue here and it seems to me he might want to address that issue.

    But let’s assume he either amends the bill or it really is the same. Here is what Justice O’Connor had to say in Webster about the language in the Missouri Statute:

    “Nothing in the record before us or the opinions below indicates that the…preamble to Missouri’s abortion regulation will affect a woman’s decision to have an abortion.” She says that ” nothing in the record or opinions below indicates that the preamble will affect a woman’s decision to practice contraception.”

    She was discussing the case within the context of the declaratory judgment procedure.

    The practical point being: the mere passage of the “personhood” bill will not deny the rights under Griswold, Roe vs. Wade as explained in later cases unless the Supreme Court overrules them. This is one reason the Catholic Church and others rejected trying to put a “personhood” constitutional amendment into the Missouri Constitution. They said the “personhood” statute amounted to nothing and so why spend the time and energy on the same thing even though there is a difference between statutory and constitutional venues.

    There are many good and sufficient reasons to vote against Mr. Marshall’s bill.

    But they are not nearly so practical and personal and pending as the ultrasound bill the Governor wisely rejected as he saw his national ambitions burning up.

    As I read the law, it is possible to come up with a constitutional ultrasound bill, whether the GOP has it or not, I am not smart enough to know.

    So I keep my comments to the political: and in that regard, the GOP has a huge risk on any ultrasound bill that is seen as forcing a procedure, far less for voting for the Marshall bill in terms of it being a Missouri bill.  

    Why? By and large, Virginians understand that many people, Governor McDonnell being the most prominent politically, have a strong passionate belief in the legal status of the unborn. They don’t see this as political. So to the extent it is a philosophical discussion, the Marshall bill is just one more way for the GOP to say we are the anti-abortion party.

    Yes, Marshall’s bill does take a definition of life which many don’t hold. But it doesn’t have a practical effect in people’s lives right now. It’s abstract in that regard.

    The ultrasound issue, however, is not about principle in the mind of key swing voters, and for good reason: it isn’t. There is nothing abstract about it.

    This is where the rubber meets the road.

    The public is not going to accept, nor should it, using the legislative process to try and punish or interfere with the practical rights of women, or anyone else, under the guise of principle strictly because you have the political power to do it. That’s just plain wrong and has been destructive to this country from day one.

    This is why the ultrasound issue, as I wrote way up the line, is quite different as a matter of politics than personhood.

    It is strictly a political effort by those in power to force women to do something because they have the power to do it.

    The ultrasound bill is all about the famous line “all politics are local.”

    The Missouri preamble has been in existence for 26 years. Where are the facts to suggest Justice O’Connor was wrong?

    Having been shown none, I stick to my original analysis:

    Marshall’s bill is bad science that gets people riled up, but they basically land in the same political space they started without more. The ultrasound bill is bad politics that if it gets people riled up, they can land in a different politically.


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