The House abortion bill and a progressive Catholic response
Today the House passed a bill banning abortion at 20 weeks. The Democrats have claimed the bill is unconstitutional and is a violation of Roe v. Wade. Technically they are correct, however the right to privacy in Roe is conditional upon the fact that the fetus is not recognized as a person until viability - with the Court settling on viability because Congress had set no other time for the start of legal personhood so the default had to be the plain language of the 14th Amendment, which starts life at birth.
The 14th Amendment, however, also includes an enforcement provision. If enforcement can reasonably include interpretation, Congress is certainly within its rights to set some time earlier than viability - although it would have to deal with any equal protection issues which arise by doing so. By settling on 20 weeks, which is well past the point where most natural miscarriages occur, they avoid most of these issues, so the Bill would likely pass constitutional scrutiny, just as the Partial Birth Abortion Ban did at the federal level, even though the states could not do so on their own (just as they cannot go to 20 weeks on their own).
Still, the Republicans are not serious. A more serious bill would have been 23 weeks and would have included an exception for the health of the mother when the child is diagnosed with a defect which will end its life before birth. In such cases, the quicker the pregnancy is terminated, the less risk for the mother.
A serious bill would also make it easier to not only support women in having their children, but also support families financially regardless of the income level of the primary bread winner. To do so would require a $500 a month tax credit for each child paid with wages or TANF benefits, with a matching state credit. This would provide enough funding, especially if indexed for inflation, to afford an additional child, thus removing the main incentive for abortion, which is financial pressure caused by expanding the family. Any abortion bill should also include this provision.
This would unify the pro-life and progressive wings of the Church. Indeed, the bishops should insist on such a provision. To not do so would be heartless, as an abortion ban without such a provision would lead to more dangerous back alley procedures. Indeed, there should be a provision that late term abortions be conducted in hospitals using induction. Catholic hospitals should offer these services, as in such cases the child could be baptized at birth before being allowed to die without extraordinary measures.
There is another reason the GOP is not serious on this issue. If they were to work out a deal with Obama their base would freak out, while the centrists would consider the issue solved. The mushy middle on abortion would become solidly for the new status quo. Most importantly, the ability to turn out the base on what is considered a settled issue (and to raise money from them) would be all but ended. Indeed, there would be no reason for the fundraising and GOTV machine, which includes the Catholic clergy, that is active on abortion to continue its relationship with the Republicans.
Let me also point out that, although the President has promised to veto this particular bill, he did say in the third debate with Senator McCain in 2000 that he would be willing to revisit the Partial Birth Abortion Law so that other procedures might also be banned - however he might hold fast to a 30 week limit.
This is, of course, the wrong time for this legislation to be considered seriously. If Obama were to keep is promise to revisit this issue and start negotiating with Representative Blackburn on details he would not only have a staff rebellion but would also hurt Democratic turnout in 2014. This is the kind of legislation best passed in the final year of a presidency.