The Abortion Question
At Rick Warren’s Saddleback forum, Barack Obama made a devastating gaffe on abortion. When asked when he believed life begins, he responded that the question was “above his pay grade” (honestly, he wants to be president of the United States—what pay grade is higher than that?), but that there was a “moral dimension” to the matter. (Really? So that’s what all those debates between the two sides were all about). Obama never did answer the question.
Most Americans will accept a standard pro-life or pro-abortion answer, but not knowing isn’t adequate, and Obama’s moral indifference probably harmed him. In addition, his opposition to a Born Alive Act, which protected fetuses born alive after botched abortions, raised a few eyebrows as well—leaving viable babies to die is perilously close to infanticide. Obama’s abortion answer hurt him. It was also the first time in years that a candidate’s statement on abortion made any news at all.
Republicans always give the same answer to the question of abortion: they believe that life begins at conception and that abortion is wrong, that they are against it, but they respect the views of the other side. Democrats also have a standard answer: they believe that abortion is a bad thing (many, such as John Kerry, even go so far as to admit that it is wrong), but that it is a women’s right that they fully support. Ignoring any inconsistencies in these positions (if life begins at conception, then abortion is murder, which makes one wonder why the Republicans don’t fight harder to end the practice; and if Democrats believe that abortion is wrong, then why is it a women’s right?), the most remarkable thing about the subject is the reluctance with which it is discussed. Neither side much wants to broach the subject—it is rarely a major part of a stump speech. Neither candidate mentions the issue unless asked directly. Abortion is a sensitive issue—but then, many issues are. Why is the abortion debate such a third rail of politics?
For the Democrat party, the answer is easy—most people believe that abortion is wrong in at least some cases, and it is foolish to seem to support a moral evil. Abortion is not a key issue for most voters—but for those voters for whom it is, it is a very important matter—literally, a case of life and death. For Democrats, the less said about the topic, the better.
But why don’t Republicans talk about it? Even the most diehard feminists are probably not as passionate about abortion as evangelicals and conservative Catholics are, and “values voters” were a key demographic in the Reagan Revolution. For many evangelicals, abortion is the one issue keeping them in the Republican party—they like much of what Democrats say about social justice and preserving the environment. Anti-abortion voters are indispensable to the Republican party, and losing their support would be a disaster for the party.
Much of the GOP’s reluctance to discuss abortion is probably due to the fact that they realize that pro-lifers aren’t going anywhere—and since they have that bloc locked up, why antagonize the other side? That is true, up to a point—pro-lifers aren’t going anywhere—but misses an important point. Elections aren’t simply about political positions—they also depend on fundraising and grassroots efforts. And pro-lifers are excellent at both of these things. Witness the success of so many evangelical mega-churches. They require lots of organization and are very expensive, yet they flourish across the nation. If evangelicals devoted just a small fraction of the time and money they spend at church to helping the GOP, the party would benefit tremendously.
Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee both ran for president on the Republican ticket. Giuliani had name recognition, pundit support, and was a fairly conservative. One problem: he was pro-choice. Huckabee had no name recognition, no money, and had a fairly liberal record—but was very vocally pro-life. Giuliani won one delegate. Huckabee very nearly won the GOP nomination.
Granted, the voters here were presumably mostly pro-life Republicans. But independents could vote in most primaries, and Huckabee was competitive in national polls. Abortion is not the radioactive issue many Republicans think it is. Stark criticism of abortion by Republican candidates would probably help the party, not hurt it.