Did Voters Reject the Pro-Life Position?
It's easy to critique mis-steps in the Romney presidential campaign. Armchair quarter-backs never throw interceptions. There was the 47% comment, the self-deportation comment, the too-combative tone here, and the too-conciliatory tone there. But were there deeper problems--fundamental positions Romney held that were simply rejected by voters? Was the fatal flaw Romney's pro-life position, or even the broader pro-life position of the Republican Party as a whole?
Dan Calabrese thinks so.
In a winnable red state Senate race, Missouri's Todd Akin makes an astoundingly stupid statement about rape and pregnancy. He is toast. In just-as-red Indiana, Senate candidate Richard Mourdock makes a slightly more defensible but still incredibly stupid statement about rape and pregnancy. It ultimately costs him the race, and all the conservative triumphalism over the primary takedown of Richard Lugar turns to gnashing of teeth as the seat flips to the Democrats.Was the presidential election a referendum on abortion? The Obama campaign tried to make it a referendum on contraception and abortions for rape victims, using the "War on Women" rhetoric. Romney of course never opposed contraception at all, nor abortion in rape cases, yet the rhetoric of his opponents implied he was an anti-contraception Catholic who wanted to ban it for everybody. Calabrese's advice wouldn't help Romney. Romney already followed it and still lost.
Why did these fiascos occur? They occurred because the standard Republican position on abortion, while admirably principled, becomes almost impossible to defend when a skilled and determined questioner starts drilling down into the details. Ask a pro-life Republican what kind of prison sentence they would recommend for a woman who gets an abortion? Good luck getting a clear and confident answer. Rape and incest? I'm with you when you say that God still loves that baby, but get into the details of how you enforce the law that forces the woman to carry the child to term when she doesn't want to? It's a disastrous debate moment just waiting to happen....
How, then, might Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock have answered that question about rape and pregnancy if not hogtied by the right-to-life movement to find some way to defend an all-encompassing abortion ban? Maybe like this:
"Rape is an unspeakable evil, and I cannot imagine the anguish of a woman who finds herself pregnant as a result of being raped. Now, do I believe the child conceived as a result or rape is loved and valued by God? Yes. Do I believe that child deserves death? No. Any woman in that circumstance who would choose to bear that child and give birth would be a hero in my eyes, and should be a hero in everyone's eyes. But as far as the law is concerned, there is no way we will ever see a political consensus in favor of a law that would force such a woman to make that choice, and I have no intention of trying to create one."
The fatal problem for Republicans Tuesday appears to be that they were unable to mobilize their conservative base. Rush Limbaugh said:
We didn't lose the election on Tuesday because we're pro-choice or pro-life; we did not lose the election because single women hate us and don't like us. That's not why we lost. We might not be getting a majority of those votes, but when three million of our own people don't show up, it doesn't matter who on the Democrat side we're not getting.Abortion wasn't the key issue that kept conservatives home. Romney failed to convince conservatives that he would reduce the size and scope of government significantly. He spent more time in the debates telling the American people all the programs for which he was going to preserve or increase funding, and many conservatives felt his vision was a more fiscally-responsible implementation of socialist policies than the president's implementation, but not a fundamentally conservative vision.
Independent (former Republican) voter Jody Luck wrote on her Facebook page:
[N]o one president or politician is going to be able to reverse the laws already in place. It is a non-winnable issue in the short term. By even engaging in these discussions, we merely open up politicians to be attacked by “the others.” When conservative politicians are asked about their pro-life stance, the clear answer should be that it is already the law of the land and not within the presidential scope of power to change it. I have heard several commentators this political season remark that instead of the Republicans forcing the focus to be on the economy, they allowed the Democrats to continually turn the focus on “women’s rights.” I honestly believe that conservatives did lose votes on this point.While Luck is right that no politician can abolish abortion in the short term, she is wrong about candidates needing to disengage from the issue or downplay it.
Again, this is an issue that should be legislated since it does do measurable harm to another person, however, it is not within any one politician’s scope to correct it, so to lose an election over this point seems short-sighted. It’s a process. We need conservative representatives in place so that when a conservative president is elected, he is free to appoint and have approved, conservative judges.
First, if we elect politicians who don't make their pro-life position clear, it will be a non-issue, and there will be no political progress, because politicians know that we, the pro-life voters, don't expect anything from them on this issue.
Second, if a Republican presidential candidate abandons the pro-life message, the pro-life voters will stay home or vote third-party. The Whigs tried that on the slavery issue, and that's why the Whig Party is in the history books, and the Republican Party is alive today.
Third, one politician (particularly the president) can take at least one significant step to fight abortion by cutting funds to Planned Parenthood, and Romney pledged to do that.
Fourth, conservatives lost votes on the abortion issue not because they were pro-life, but because they allowed their opponents to define the issue.
So how should pro-life candidates define the issue in a way that is truthful and convincing?
Calabrese is right that anyone who takes a principled pro-life stand needs clear, medically-accurate, reasonable, and compassionate answers. Pro-life candidates need to turn the debate back from the hard cases like rape/incest/fetal anomaly to where the law is, and go on offense. "I believe all life is sacred, regardless of the circumstances of conception, but my opponent wants abortion to be legal as a method of birth control through all three trimesters, and he even supported the barbaric practice or partial-birth abortion."
Pro-life candidates shouldn't hang their heads and stand courageously as martyrs for an extreme cause. No. Show how extreme the opposition truly is. Don't let the debate linger on the hard cases. Take it back to the majority of cases. President Obama repeatedly criticized Romney for wanting to defund Planned Parenthood, falsely claiming they perform mammograms. Romney looked like the extremist and failed to demonstrate that Obama is the real extremist, shoveling tax money to an organization that is documented to cover up sexual abuse and sex trafficking; an organization that urges minors to try group sex and other risky practices; an organization that makes most of its money from killing babies; an organization that was founded to control minority populations and still kills a disproportionate number of black babies.
Republican candidates get used to debating the minor differences with each other in primaries, and when a pro-life candidate goes up against someone like President Obama, he forgets that the issue is not the exceptional cases. The issue is that the pro-abortion opponent thinks every baby is fair game for the abortionist's suction machine and scissors. That's extreme.
To the extent that this election was a referendum on abortion, it was ruined by candidates who failed to frame the debate and allowed the opposition to incorrectly define the differences in their positions.
Pro-life candidates must think through and defend their positions better, largely by going back on offense against the extremism of the pro-abortion position, but they must not abandon the pro-life cause. Doing so would be both moral cowardice and political suicide.