They spent a decade dodging bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. They came home to preserve the peace during riots and floods. Tomorrow, they’ll pick up their machine guns and body armor, put on their camo, and stop women from getting abortions.
That’s the vision Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, has, at least, for deploying the National Guard.
A sub-contest is emerging in the most conservative corners of the Republican primary, as candidates vie to present themselves as the contenders who oppose abortion in the most cases and with the most government involvement possible.
Huckabee has managed to get to everyone’s right on the issue, suggesting he’s open to ideas that could make the government’s efforts to block abortion more intrusive than ever.
Last month, the governor told a reporter that he was open to the possibility of using the National Guard or FBI to keep women from having abortions.
Using the military to stop abortion would be, uh, historic.
“I will not pretend there is nothing we can do to stop this,” he said on the campaign trail in Iowa, the Huffington Post reported.
When asked if he would use those federal resources to stop abortions, Huckabee replied, “We’ll see when I’m president,” adding, “All American citizens should be protected.”
The National Guard is typically brought in by governors to help out with national disasters (think Hurricane Katrina or Sandy) or to maintain order during a riot (think last spring’s unrest in Baltimore). Once in a great, great while, the troops might be brought in to enforce the law of the land, when local enforcement can’t or won’t, like in the early days of the civil rights movement in the South.
But, of course, abortion is legal in this country. Which means the idea of sending in the troops to stop the practice is doubly odd. Especially because, as a former governor, Huckabee knows all about deploying the National Guard. (In fact, Huckabee considered himself enough of an authority of the Guard that last year he attacked Missouri Governor Jay Nixon for supposedly mis-deploying those troops during the unrest in Ferguson. “His use of the National Guard was disgusting and deplorable,” Huckabee said.)
Of course, Huckabee has made several forays into the unusual on reproductive rights. At the Fox News debate last week, he made a controversial legal justification for his opposition to abortion, arguing that the Fifth and 14th Amendments mean abortion should be illegal.
“And this notion that we just continue to ignore the personhood of the individual is a violation of that unborn child’s Fifth and 14th Amendment rights for due process and equal protection under the law,” he said.
Huckabee’s campaign didn’t clarify how this would be enforced but reiterated the candidate’s prolife beliefs in a statement.
“We can debate issues like taxes, foreign policy and education but the undebatable science is settled on one thing: unborn babies are human beings. The right to life is a constitutionally protected right, and as President, Governor Huckabee will uphold the Constitution and use the powers of the presidency to defend the unborn,” said Hogan Gidley, Huckabee’s senior communications adviser. “The Governor has been clear that you can’t criticize foreign countries for genocide if our government willingly accepts, endorses, and subsidizes infanticide.”
And it’s a stance that makes it hard for anyone to get to his right.
At National Review, Michael New noted that the 14th Amendment strategy has been largely disregarded by the pro-life movement. Instead, activists focus on eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood and backing presidential candidates who promise their judicial nominees will oppose Roe v. Wade.
And at the state level, activists push—often with great success—for laws tightening regulations on abortion clinics and barring the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
So Huckabee’s invocation of the 14th Amendment argument puts him outside the norm, even among the country’s most influential pro-life advocates.
Beyond the fact that Huckabee’s strategy would potentially upend the Constitution, it would also break new ground—new and very big-government ground—in law enforcement.
Leslie Reagan, professor of history, medicine, gender and women’s studies, and law at the University of Illinois College of Law, said Huckabee deserves credit for his forthrightness.
“He was very straightforward about what it actually means to say you want to restrict abortion,” she said. “And what it means is forcing women to bear children, to carry out every pregnancy. That’s much more direct than what people tend to say.”
Reagan has done extensive work studying the history of abortion in the United States, and said—contrary to Huckabee’s insinuation—enforcement of the abortion bans that existed before Roe v. Wade was solely a concern of local law enforcement. Law enforcers executed bans by going after providers. And they would often find providers who performed the procedure illegally when women with medical complications from the procedure went to hospitals for further medical attention.
Sometimes women who hadn’t had abortions—including women who had miscarried—also faced interrogations.
“Police would be called in and ask them questions,” Reagan said. “‘Who did this to you, where was it done, how did they do it, who was your partner, who made you pregnant, who’s the father?’”
Hospital staff and doctors also pressed women for information, Reagan continued. She added that police told some doctors that if they didn’t question women in these situations, they would be considered suspects. These enforcement efforts—particularly energetic in the 1940s and 1950s—were always local concerns, and never federal ones.
Johanna Schoen, a professor at Rutgers University who studies the history of the reproductive rights movement, told The Daily Beast that local politics sometimes dictated when clinics got raided.
“Many localities ignored abortion providers if they offered safe services,” she emailed. “Local law enforcement did, however, occasionally set up sting operations, most frequently in times when elected officials wanted to demonstrate that they were hard on moral crimes—such as when they were seeking re-election. And also in the case of providers who offered clearly substandard services.”
Reagan said San Diego had its own abortion squad that prioritized enforcement of the state’s abortion ban, and that many law enforcers tried to plan these raids to burst in while abortions were happening so they would be able to make stronger criminal cases.
That said, Huckabee’s call for a role for federal law enforcement in the abortion wars isn’t, in fact, 100 percent off base. But it’s the polar opposite of what he suggested on the campaign trail; rather than pursuing abortion providers, federal agents have stepped in protect them.
“Many of the most prominent providers are in regular contact with the FBI and some have temporarily been under FBI protection,” Schoen said.
“When the National Women’s Health Association opened Jackson Women’s Health, the one remaining abortion clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, the Justice Department sent federal marshals to protect patients and staff,” she added. “This was just after the first killings of abortion providers.”
Lynn Paltrow, who heads the group National Advocates for Pregnant Women, argues that enforcement of abortion bans would be very different now than it was in the first half of the 20th century. In her paper “Roe v. Wade and the New Jane Crow: Reproductive Rights in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” published in 2013 in the American Journal of Public Health, she argued that abortion bans could result in a substantial increase in the number of women incarcerated.
“This new era of mass incarceration—which is largely accepted by the public, defended by an army of lobbyists, and justified by a war on drugs deeply rooted in America’s history of slavery and racism—makes it far more likely today than in 1973 that if Roe is overturned women will themselves be arrested and jailed,” she wrote. “It is also likely that women having or considering having abortions will be subject to far more government surveillance than in the past.”
Huckabee’s suggestion isn’t just a big outlier among Republican presidential candidates that would potentially send the Constitution topsy-turvy; it’s also a call for dramatically increasing the role of the federal policing power in local law enforcement efforts. This from a guy who fundraises off the merits of small government. This is from a former governor who says he wants to be commander in chief.