Rand Paul's Life at Conception Act

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) continues in his effort to establish a full-spectrum profile of policy positions with his Life at Conception Act, rolled out on his website last week as follows:

On Thursday, Sen. Paul introduced S.583, a bill that would implement equal protection under the 14th Amendment for the right to life of each born and unborn human. This legislation does not amend or interpret the Constitution, but simply relies on the 14th Amendment, which specifically authorizes Congress to enforce its provisions.

From Section 1 of the 14th Amendment:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

“The Life at Conception Act legislatively declares what most Americans believe and what science has long known- that human life begins at the moment of conception, and therefore is entitled to legal protection from that point forward,” Sen. Paul said. “The right to life is guaranteed to all Americans in the Declaration of Independence and ensuring this is upheld is the Constitutional duty of all Members of Congress.”

This seems very straightforward, but became considerably less so when Senator Paul discussed it on CNN.  As chronicled at The Blaze, when interviewer Wolf Blitzer asked the most absolutely predictable question he could possibly have asked… here, hang on a second, let me prove it.  What do you think the most easily anticipated question asked of a Republican on the topic of abortion is?  We’ll pause for a second while you consider your reply.



(cough Todd Akin cough cough Richard Mourdock cough)



(ahem War on Women cough cough)



Well, what was your guess?  If you said, “If you believe life begins at conception, which I suspect you do, you would have no exceptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother?” you win.  Unfortunately, due to sequestration, you don’t win anything.

But for some strange reason, Paul didn’t seem quite ready to answer that question, because this is what he said:

What I would say is that there are thousands of exceptions. I???m a physician and every individual case is going to be different. Everything is going to be particular to that individual case and what is going on that mother and the medical circumstances of that mother…

I would say that, after birth, we???ve decided that when life begins, we have decided that we don???t have exceptions for one-day-olds or a six-month-olds. We don???t ask where they came from or how they came into being.

But it is more complicated, because the rest of it depends on the definition of when life comes in. So I don???t think it???s as simple as checking a box and saying, ???Exceptions??? or ???No exceptions.???

I???ve been there at the beginning of life. I???ve held one pound babies in my hand that I examined their eyes. I???ve been there at the end of life. There are a lot of decisions made privately by families and their doctors that really won???t, the law won???t apply to. But I think it is important that we not be flippant one way or the other and pigeonhole and say, ???Oh, this person doesn???t believe in any sort of discussion between family.???

Now, this is a very difficult topic for the American electorate.  Individuals may have ironclad convictions one way or the other, but voters as a whole are deeply conflicted.  And to Senator Paul’s great credit, he didn’t run away from the question or try to pettifog Wolf Blitzer into a coma, as other politicians might have been tempted to do.  It’s not as though he whiffed on a softball here.

But look: every Republican is going to face this question, whether he has a strong position on abortion or not, and Paul’s Life at Conception act stakes out a very strong position.  Everyone needs to be ready with an answer that is both logically sound and emotionally resonant, because the media would dearly love to give Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock some company out there in political oblivion.

Those who would champion legislation as powerful as Rand Paul’s must be prepared to give commensurately powerful replies.  He did a fair job of explaining why it’s a tough question to answer, but rest assured, every Republican will then be absolutely required to give an answer nonetheless… and if they don’t, their opponents will pencil one in for them.  And with all due respect Senator Paul, this is legislation that will affect the lives of a great many people; it is not “flippant” to ask for specifics.

Paul’s Life at Conception Act addresses the core question of the abortion debate: is that fetus a human being or not?  It’s not quite a binary “yes or no” issue, since some people believe life begins at different points during pregnancy, and almost everyone thinks human life is well under way when the baby exits the womb.  Clearly, if the purpose of Paul’s proposal is to officially recognize that a human being with full 14th Amendment rights exists at the moment of conception, there can’t be as many detailed “exceptions” as his somewhat rambling response to Blitzer implies.  I certainly hope there aren’t a lot of decisions my family can make privately that would override my 14th Amendment rights.

Paul might be well advised to bring in sociologist Charles Murray to consult on this issue, because his “abortion as justifiable homicide” formulation gets close to what I think the Senator was trying to say in that CNN interview… and Murray says it with brutal efficiency.  If each abortion ends a human life, is it not appropriate for those who make the decision to see themselves as taking away what the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees – concluding, with appropriate gravity, that such terrible action might be necessary, while distracted by no illusions about their nature?