Did you see where Arkansas legislators have passed a law making abortions illegal after the twelfth week of pregnancy? They didn't just pass the law, either. They overrode a gubernatorial veto to do so. Of course, the 12-week limit goes against established legal precedent, is blatantly unconstitutional, and stands virtually no chance of surviving the inevitable judicial scrutiny, much less reaching the Supreme Court. Even most anti-abortion crusaders think the law unrealistically ambitious. Are those Arkansan lawmakers nuts?
Sadly, no. They know exactly what they are doing; they are doing precisely what anti-abortion activists have been doing for the last thirty-plus years. They are shifting the ground on which abortion battles are fought. They have not yet been successful in getting the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, but they have succeeded regularly in chipping away at its protections. A woman's right to choose is gradually succumbing to death by a thousand legislative cuts. In parts of this country, abortion is effectively illegal already, thanks to state and local laws on parental or spousal notification, "partial-birth" abortion, waiting periods, etc.--to say nothing of hostility towards abortion-services providers (including death threats and, in the case of George Tiller, murder). In this environment, pro-choice advocates will take solace when they succeed slapping down Arkansas' paleoconservative abortion restrictions. But when other lesser--but still onerous--restrictions are proposed or passed, the will and the resources to fight them will be that much more depleted.
It's a depressing scenario. I would suggest, however, that liberals should make lemons out of lemonade and adopt this same tactic toward left-wing causes. I'm thinking particularly of the gun-control debate. There is no chance of a state legislature successfully passing laws to completely outlaw gun ownership (indeed, very few people--liberals included--advocate such a total ban). But why not get sympathetic legislators to propose such legislation, the more implausible the better. Flood statehouses from coast to coast with all manner of handgun restrictions, from the relatively benign (background checks) to the utterly unrealistic (a law forbidding private citizens from owning any firearm more powerful than a musket). Make the gun lobby defend itself, make them fight numerous battles on numerous fronts. As the ground under the abortion debate has been shifted inexorably to the right, let's shift the ground beneath the gun-control debate leftward. It's worth a shot--no pun intended.