For the most part, we do not use this space to address national issues, unless they have clear local import. We believe local editorials should be largely about local matters.
But we make an exception here because local, state and national concerns intersected — or perhaps collided — when U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., proposed a national ban on abortions.
This is a national issue for the obvious reason that Graham is a U.S. Senator proposing a law that would limit abortion rights equally in all 50 states. It is a state issue because it takes state legislatures largely if not entirely out of the picture. And it is a local issue because while we individually only get to elect two U.S. Senators and one representative, we get a considerably more proportional voice in our own state’s government.
Bear with us, and if the fact that this is about abortion makes you jump immediately to one side of the debate or another, consider your response to some other, less controversial issue being handled this same way.
For 50 years, a ruling by the Supreme Court — nine unelected federal officials — declared abortion a legal right for all Americans, allowing some restrictions. That meant nine people — seven, technically, with two dissents to the original ruling — made a decision impacting some 209 million Americans in 1973.
Many argued, for many years, the ruling was flawed, and some of those arguments were very convincing. But the ruling stood for half a century, before the current Supreme Court struck it down. This time, six unelected officials, with three dissenting, made a choice for some 332 million people.
An important point of the majority written opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the case used to overturn Roe — was that the abortion decision was being returned to the state legislatures, and thus put more firmly in the hands of voters. The decision is heavily peppered with referral to state’s interests, at one point arguing “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority.”
Indeed, Graham himself seemed to embrace returning the abortion issue to legislators. Just before Dobbs was officially announced (but after the expected decision had been leaked), Graham said “The Dobbs case is historic and will afford the Court the opportunity to return political decision making to the legislative branch … .”
Now, however, it is clear he wasn’t talking about state legislatures, but about the U.S. Congress. And a national, uniform ban on abortion surely “prohibits the citizens of each state from regulating or prohibiting abortion” as they see fit.
Put another way, Dobbs seems clearly written to return the abortion debate to state legislatures and the people who elect them. Even if you disagree with Dobbs, that argument makes some sense. It seems considerably fairer to have our state’s 253 elected senators and representatives make decisions for 12.8 million Pennsylvanians than to have nine unelected justices make the same decision for 332 million Americans.
But by the same logic, it’s much fairer to let those 253 state legislators — all elected by Pennsylvanians — make the decision for Pennsylvanians rather than handing it over to the U.S. Congress, where only 20 members are elected by Pennsylvanians.
And yes, the same argument would apply if Democrats in Washington managed to push through a bill expanding abortion rights.
Like it or not, Dobbs is now case law. With no further action, it puts the abortion debate in the hands of states. The majority opinion strongly seems to say that was the intent. Graham’s proposed bill would pull it out of state hands. If you believe Roe was federal overreach denying you your voice in the matter, Graham’s bill isn’t much better.
— Times Leader