Does the pro-life cause have the wrong allies?

[Today’s post is by Robert Christian, a progressive Catholic.  It is a response to last week’s “Election Reflection” blog post.  It was originally posted at Millennial and is reprinted with permission.]

A recent blog post at Secular Pro-Life addresses the question of whether or not the pro-life movement has the wrong allies.  It does.

The post notes, “When the pro-life movement is allied with fiscal conservatives, who are inclined to cut social programs, it’s all too easy
for abortion supporters to accuse us of not caring about people after
they are born.”  Conversely, “The Democratic Party, with its historic
concern for those who cannot speak for themselves, would seem to be a
better fit– in theory.”

The Democratic Party is a much better fit, both theoretically and
practically.  Pro-life progressivism is based on a far more coherent
political philosophy in terms of its understanding of the role of
government and the protection of human life and dignity.  In fact, in
the 1970s, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to oppose
abortion, and Congress was filled with pro-life Democrats.

It was only in the mid- to late 1980s that abortion became strongly
associated with party identification, according to scholars Robert
Putnam and David Campbell.  This is a relatively recent development, and
it is not irreversible.

In the post, the argument is made that the Democratic Party is
“married to abortion.”  That’s true if one focuses exclusively on party
leaders and activists.  Overall, however, one third of the Democratic
Party is pro-life.  Pro-life Democrats are elected at state and local
levels across the country, even in deep blue states like Connecticut and
Massachusetts.  These numbers would be considerably higher if so many
pro-lifers who oppose economic libertarianism had not left the party
over the past 40 years.

It is true that wealthy pro-choice liberals have disproportionate
control over the party’s agenda.  This can only be countered by
organizing a large grassroots network of pro-life Democrats.  Every time
another frustrated pro-lifer flees the party, given the reality of
campaign finance rules and closed primary elections, they make this more

And they hurt the cause by joining a party married to anti-government
rhetoric, whose top priority is minimizing taxes on the wealthiest
Americans.  It’s not a myth that many self-identified pro-lifers are not
that interested in protecting life from threats other than abortion. 
Some critics want to say that pro-lifers are really pro-birth or
pro-baby.  That’s a bit charitable.  You can’t oppose access to
affordable, quality healthcare for pregnant women and deserve the label
“pro-birth. “  You cannot be completely indifferent to infant mortality
rates and be reasonably identified as “pro-baby.”  And the basic
incoherence of this type of worldview rightfully exposes many pro-lifers
to the charge of being hypocrites or insincere in their commitment to
defending innocent human life.

Framing the pro-life cause around the themes of equality and human
rights and backing up this rhetoric with a commitment to policies that
reflect these values, for both the born and unborn, is a far better
strategy.  This rhetoric and worldview is also far more appealing to
Millennials, many of whom are not affiliated with an organized religion,
yet still have a strong belief in social justice and other values.  The
pro-gay marriage movement has found the right formula to appeal to
Millennials and its support has grown rapidly.  The pro-life movement
cannot keep relying on the extremism of the pro-choice movement and its
continued use of hyper-individualistic rhetoric to prevent the
pro-choice cause from making similar inroads.

The devotion of the pro-life movement to the Republican Party has led
to the endorsement of candidates that have embarrassed and discredited
the movement.  This includes candidates whose understanding of women’s bodies and pregnancy is as sophisticated as the theory of where babies come from put forward by Maude Apatow’s character in Knocked Up
It also includes Scott Desjarlais who opposes abortion, except in the
cases where he pressures his wife and mistress to abort his own
children.  Numerous pro-lifers stood by these ridiculous and repulsive
candidates until the very end.

But is there hope for a new Republican party?  The post argues:

Rather than the usual dry talk of waste, balanced budgets, and so on, they have shifted their messaging to focus on the debt we are leaving to our children. In short, they’re saying that they do care very much about people who are already born, and using that as a basis for their fiscal conservatism. That could be a harmonious fit with the pro-life position.

Repackaging existing policies designed to aid the wealthiest
Americans is not going to fool Millennials or anyone else who sees
pro-life conservatism as incoherent or hypocritical.  Further, the
elected Republicans using this rhetoric were not serious about debt
reduction.  A balanced-budget plan that starts with large tax cuts for
multimillionaires and billionaires and ends with no projected balanced
budget for decades is more properly called a tax cut plan.  The argument
that we must slash essential programs that help the neediest Americans
so that we will not be in a position where we might have to slash
essential programs that help the poor in the future is patently

It is not impossible to envision a Republican Party that is more open
to those with a whole life perspective.  In the wake of Mitt Romney’s
loss, many are arguing the party needs to move in a more moderate
direction.  If the party does shift in this direction, three options
appear most likely.  First, it could moderate its position on
immigration and eliminate its hateful, divisive rhetoric (the 47%,
makers v. takers, etc.), while basically maintaining its current
understanding of social, economic, and foreign policy conservatism. 
Second, it could moderate its position on social issues like gay
marriage and abortion, weakening its commitment to both, while
reaffirming its commitment to its current economic agenda.  Finally, it
could develop an economic agenda that actually addresses the concerns
and needs of working and middle-class Americans and/or one that tackles
the budget deficit, while maintaining its opposition to abortion.

While the third might seem to be the best way to expand its electoral
appeal, the first two are more appealing to the wealthy supporters of
the party.   They would rather see the party move in the direction of a
Marco Rubio or Bobby Jindal or a real life Arnold Vinick (of the West
Wing) than see a genuine compassionate conservative or tax-raising
budget balancer alter the direction of the party.  And over the past
decades, these supporters have been the most powerful in the party.  As
Jonathan Chait notes,
“The Republican Party has been organized around defending the material
interests of the very rich — largely by defending low top tax rates as
its maximal policy goal.”  Change is always possible after a loss like
Romney’s, but it is not clear that this organizing principle will

The pro-life movement’s devotion to the Republican Party has not just
led to the endorsement of fools, but to coordinated campaigns to
eradicate pro-life Democrats.  It is difficult to overstate how
counterproductive this is.  Any movement that requires one party
reaching and maintaining a durable supermajority to achieve its goals is
doomed to failure.  The two-party system is not an endangered species
in America.  Bipartisanship is necessary for success.  Gaining equal
ground in the Democratic Party will be a challenge, but it is a fight
worth undertaking. 

The biggest reason why the pro-life movement needs progressive allies
is because the Republican strategy, which relies on the appointment of
enough conservative Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade and
return the issue of abortion to the states, would neither result in the
legal protection of unborn life nationwide nor address the underlying
causes of abortion.  Only a comprehensive approach that guarantees
constitutional protection for unborn lives and addresses the economic
and social needs of pregnant women and children, born and unborn, can be
fully successful.

The biggest obstacle to the pro-life movement finding its natural
allies is that many important pro-life activists are highly partisan and
would be devoted to the Republican Party regardless of its position on
abortion.  The pro-life movement is filled with people who think food,
healthcare, and other basic needs are privileges to be earned, not
rights based on human worth and dignity.  I have seen pro-life leaders
who are Ayn Rand devotees.  Others spread the prosperity gospel.  If the
pro-life movement wants to be successful, it does not just need new
allies, it needs new leaders.

Election Reflection

Despite America’s pro-life majority, abortion supporters were victorious at the ballot box earlier this month. This is no doubt due to a confluence of many factors. Most pro-lifers are not single-issue voters, and they viewed Obama as better on the economy. Mitt Romney was never a strong candidate to begin with; you’ll recall that pro-lifers were essentially rooting for “anyone else” in the GOP primary. Todd Akin made an outrageous comment on rape that was then presented as a mainstream pro-life position. And so on, and so on.

A good friend of mine who is a longtime supporter of SPL suggests that “perhaps a different lesson needs to be drawn: the pro-life cause has the wrong allies.” When the pro-life movement is allied with fiscal conservatives, who are inclined to cut social programs, it’s all too easy for abortion supporters to accuse us of not caring about people after they are born. (I myself described this alliance as “strained” when I appeared on NPR.) The Democratic Party, with its historic concern for those who cannot speak for themselves, would seem to be a better fit– in theory. In practice, of course, the Democratic Party is married to abortion. So it’s only natural that, in a country with a pro-life majority and a two-party system, the GOP would ally with us.
Are Republicans the “wrong” allies? My response is to quote Jason Jones: it’s a tragedy that the pro-life flag was not firmly planted in both parties. We must reach out to people on the left as well as the right. But that shouldn’t mean abandoning those allies we already have.
What does all of this mean for pro-life political strategy in the short term? I’ll conclude with two quick thoughts, and welcome yours.  
First, we must be very clear about the fact that pro-lifers do amazing work to provide for needy families through private charity, regardless of the political situation. Pro-life organizations and individuals that do this work are often reluctant to talk about it, possessing a certain humility and embarrassment about “tooting one’s own horn.” That has to stop.  
Second, I’ve noticed an interesting trend emerging among some fiscal conservatives. Rather than the usual dry talk of waste, balanced budgets, and so on, they have shifted their messaging to focus on the debt we are leaving to our children. In short, they’re saying that they do care very much about people who are already born, and using that as a basis for their fiscal conservatism. That could be a harmonious fit with the pro-life position. With a few other tweaks, like an intense focus on education reform, the Republicans could plausibly market themselves as the party of children’s issues (including, but not limited to, the child’s right to be born).
Your reactions?

American Ambivalence

The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby points out that most Americans’ views on abortion don’t fully align with either Republican or Democratic party platforms:

Only about 1 in 5 [Americans] ever say that abortion should always be illegal. When asked directly whether abortion should be permitted if a pregnancy results from rape or incest, huge majorities — usually around 75 percent — say yes.
Moreover, only a minority of Americans favors amending the Constitution to end legalized abortion or overturn Roe v. Wade. In poll after poll, about 6 in 10 Americans express support for Roe. A GOP platform that endorses a human life amendment conferring on the unborn “a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed” — essentially a call to ban abortion, period — thus embraces a position that significant majorities of the public do indeed reject.
So Republicans are the extremists on abortion? Not so fast.
If you’re like most Americans, you believe that abortion is morally wrong. You oppose abortion on demand. You think abortion should be legal only in certain circumstances. Even then you favor restrictions on its use, including 24-hour waiting periods, parental consent in the case of a minor, and requiring a married woman to notify her husband before she gets an abortion. You want late-term abortions to be prohibited, and you reject using public funds to pay for anyone’s abortion.  

Does the Democratic Party uphold these mainstream positions? On the contrary: It rejects every one of them. 

Jacoby draws these conclusions from a “compilation of decades of polling data” entitled “Attitudes on Abortion.”  The report’s summary states,

Although opinion about abortion is stable, it is also deeply ambivalent. Americans are at once pro-life and pro-choice. On the one hand, substantial numbers tell the pollsters that abortion is an act of murder. On the other, they say that the decision to have an abortion should be a personal choice. Those two views are fundamentally contradictory, yet many Americans hold them within themselves. They see no reason to resolve the tensions in their own positions. They believe in the sanctity of life and in the importance of individual choice.

How is it possible for so many people to essentially believe that an act of murder should be a personal choice?

Perhaps it’s because, as the report explains, some 90% of Americans have never been active in the abortion debate.  Those of us who have argued about this ad nauseum have been pushed to look further into legal precedents, philosophical perspectives, and so on.  Hopefully we’ve also been compelled to consider the inevitably complicated ramifications of abortion policy proposals (whether to restrict abortion or maintain the status quo).  In contrast, I imagine the topic of abortion–much less all the details it can involve–come up relatively rarely for most people.

I’m curious to know the average American’s “abortion literacy.” What do people believe our current abortion laws permit and restrict?  How often do they believe the hard cases (i.e. life-threatening pregnancies or pregnancies resulting from rape) occur?  What resources do they think are available to women with unplanned pregnancies?  Why do they think women choose abortion?

How close are the average American’s expectations to reality?  If most people were as informed as those active in the abortion debate, how would that affect popular perspective on abortion?

The ACA, Abortion, and the Election

The Washington Times reports on reactions to the Affordable Care Act in terms of the abortion debate:

“Defeat Obama, elect Mitt Romney and repeal Obamacare,” David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), said in response to the high court’s 5-4 decision Thursday, which found the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act constitutional under the taxation powers of the federal government.
“We have saved the Affordable Care Act … but the gains of women for 40 years are at stake,” Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, said Friday in Baltimore at the annual conference of the National Organization for Women. “We cannot lose this election … We must get out the vote,” she told her cheering audience.

Unsurprisingly, pro-lifers are associated with electing Mitt Romney, defeating Obama, and repealing the ACA.  Pro-choicers are associated with the opposite.  Gallup finds Americans are split on the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the ACA (46% agree, 46% disagree), but these views skew heavily along party lines (79% of Democrats agree, 83% of Republicans disagree).

However, Gallup also finds that, of those who want to repeal the ACA in some form, 40% only want to repeal parts of the Act, rather than repeal the entire Act.

If the ACA had nothing to do with abortion, would that substantially change your view of the Act?  Would it change your view of the election?

Support for Abortion: Republican Versus Democrat

This post was sent to me by guest blogger Sarah T. – M

When thinking about the abortion issue, most people assume that the respective stances of the two major political parties in the United States are rigidly defined and set in stone. Republicans are pro-life. Democrats are pro-choice. That is all. In reality, however, things are not that clear. While the pro-life position is the official stance of the Republican Party and the pro-choice position is the official stance of the Democratic Party, the opinions of the rank-and-file of Republicans and Democrats do not always line up neatly with their parties’ platforms.

Here are the statistics:

  • If the life/health of the woman is in jeopardy abortion is approved by 90% of Democrats and 90% of Republicans
  • If the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest abortion is approved of by 82% of Democrats and 82% of Republicans
  • If the woman has low income and cannot afford more children abortion is approved by 48% of Democrats and 41% of Republicans
  • If a woman is not married abortion is approved of by 44% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans
  • Abortion for any reason is approved of by 40% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans

So as we see here, there is not a huge difference between the way Republicans and Democrats view abortion. Large majorities support keeping abortion legal in cases where the woman’s life or health is in danger or when she has been raped. However, there are only four percentage points between Democrats and Republicans who approve of abortion for any reason. If a woman is not married, the difference between Republicans’ and Democrats’ opinions is only 1%. This flies in the face of popular belief that Democrats are always pro-choice and Republicans are always pro-life. There are more pro-life Democrats than most people believe. The Democratic Party does not have a dead lock on the pro-choice position.

Pro-life Democrats need to speak out and reclaim our party. 60% of Democrats oppose abortion in at least some circumstances. Currently, in the United States, abortion is legal at any time in pregnancy for any reason. The Supreme Court cases Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton have seen to that. 60% of Democrats feel that this is wrong. This is a majority. The extremist position taken by many Democratic candidates, who say that there should be no restrictions at all on abortion at any time, is not in step with what the people of the party actually believe. Planned Parenthood and NARAL do not speak for the majority of Democrats.

Source: James A. Davis, Tom W. Smith, and Peter V. Marsden “General Social Surveys, 1972- 2004 (Chicago: National Opinion Research Center, 2008)

Quick News Roundup: 11/04/10

It’s my first news roundup after this past election day. It led to a fairly big sweep by Republicans in the House of Representatives and many individual State Houses. That said – let’s move on to the news

Domestic News: Pro-Life local candidates won pretty big on Tuesday according to LifeNews. 20 State Legislatures are now controlled by a pro-life / Republican majority including in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Alabama, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In Colorado, the Personhood Amendment to their state constitution, which would have Constitutionally defined when life began, lost at the polls 70% against to 30% for. An editorial over at Politics Daily discusses the impact of the fact that half of the pro-life Democrats in Congress lost reelection to Republicans and the impact this may have on the Democratic caucus. Very interesting read.

International News: On Monday in Canada, Parliament began debate on legislation that would prohibit coerced abortions. “Roxanne’s Law,” as it’s called, would make it a criminal offense to coerce a woman to get an abortion. Speaking of Canada, in New Brunswick there have been calls to probe / investigate their laws on abortion. The provincial Department of Health’s policies require a referral from a family doctor and for the procedure to be performed at a hospital for them to pay for the abortion. This is what led to the complaint from abortion doctors who feel that too many people are rejected the payment for abortions. The Daily Mail has an editorial discussing abortion in the United Kingdom, how often its abused, and how a stronger pro-life movement akin to the one in the US could theoretically develop.

Discussion Topic: Now that the election is over, how do you feel about the prospects of pro-life legislation / the pro-life movement as a whole?

What else would I be writing about on November 2nd?

There’s really only one story today: the election! If you’re eligible to vote and haven’t voted yet, today is your last chance. The National Right to Life Committee will provide updates throughout the evening as results come in.

FiveThirtyEight predicts that Republicans will make considerable gains in state offices and both houses of Congress, but that they will fail to win a Senate majority. (LifeNews predicts a 50-50 tie in the Senate.) Although pro-lifers hope that GOP gains will translate into solid pro-life legislation, we must bear in mind that there are some pro-abortion Republicans in the mix, like California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. There are also some pro-life Democrats to watch– and while their numbers are likely to decline in this round, I’m not prepared to join those who are proclaiming that the Democratic pro-life movement is dead.

The story behind the story

Tea partier Christine O’Donnell won the Delaware Republican primary, causing the media to go into a tizzy. Political pundits are speculating wildly about the chances of the tea party movement being a massive political force come November. I’m not going to make any predictions either way. I just want to take a moment to note something that most media reports have neglected to mention: O’Donnell was the only pro-life candidate. Some articles alluded to the difference by calling the incumbent Republican she defeated, Mike Castle, a “moderate.” In fact, he’s not moderate on abortion at all: he received 100% ratings from NARAL in 2005, 2006 and 2007. His dip to 25% approval in 2009 was apparently not sufficient to save his reputation with pro-life voters.

According to the National Right to Life Committee, single-issue pro-life voters routinely have an impact of 3 to 4 percentage points. O’Donnell won by six percent. So while the pro-life vote may not have been dispositive, it definitely helped!

Whether or not we agree with O’Donnell’s “tea party” politics, her victory stands for something broader. It stands for the proposition that, in a close race (and there are many expected in November), no candidate can afford to discard the right to life as an irrelevant “social issue.” *Cough*MitchDaniels*HaleyBarbour*Cough*

Refreshing: SBA List focusing on Republicans

For the record, I do not belong to any political party. I’m generally supportive of pro-life candidates, of course, but many politicians cross party lines on abortion. That’s why I’m happy to see that the Susan B. Anthony List, one of the most politically powerful pro-life groups around, has set its sights on the GOP.

The SBA List has gotten plenty of attention for its campaign against Democrats who backed out of the Stupak coalition on health care reform. Their “Votes Have Consequences” tour was sharply criticized by pro-life Democrats, eventually leading to a fruitless pissing contest.

While continuing its campaign against targeted Democrats, the SBA List just announced a campaign that will focus on strengthening the pro-life platform of the Republican Party:

Today, the Susan B. Anthony List announced the launch of its “Life Speaking Out Campaign” aimed at encouraging House GOP leadership to make protecting women and the unborn a priority in its legislative blueprint expected after Labor Day. The campaign includes a website for pro-life activists to lobby House GOP leadership ( and an encouraging letter to leadership signed by SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.

“The Republican Party must show what it is made of this time around. They can do so by acting on their convictions and those of their party, and by making a commitment to passage of common-sense, life-saving legislation,” said Dannenfelser.

. . .

Since the format for the blueprint was originally floated, it has been widely reported that the agenda consists of five basic planks which were outlined in a recess document: jobs, national security, spending restraint, government reform and health care. The SBA List praised its reported inclusion of anti-funding of abortion language, but the “Life Speaking Out Campaign” asks that GOP leaders include a separate “Family Values” plank under which pro-life priorities would be included.

Pro-life Democrats might see this as little consolation. Still, I think it’s a step in the right (no pun intended) direction. The pro-life movement must constantly push elected officials to be responsive, regardless of party affiliation.

NRLC Convention Day Three

The morning general session began with a review of the health care reform law. NRLC’s concerns include funding of abortion (obviously), Medicare cuts, and the potential for rationing. In response to Congressman Mike Doyle’s comment in the press that NRLC was aligning with the Republican party, NRLC said that they started from pro-life principles and that the Republican party happened to align with them.

General comment: Over the course of the convention, there’s been lots of talk about bipartisanship. It might be a moot point, since it looks like all the pro-lifers in close races this election cycle are Republican, but which races are close is continually changing. Various NRLC speakers, at various times, have reiterated that they would support a pro-life Dem over a pro-abortion GOP candidate.

Next, Congressman John Boehner was presented with an award. He gave us a nice pep talk. Toward the end, a man in the audience started screaming–most notably “May God strike you dead!”– and continued ranting as security escorted him out. The mistress of ceremonies, NRLC co-executive director Darla St. Martin, handled it very gracefully, simply noting that “our opposition can be quite vehement.” Ho hum, just another day at National Right to Life.

I went to another fundraising workshop, then to a presentation on pro-life work at the United Nations. This included a discussion of the real relationship between abortion and maternal health; I highly recommend this pamphlet. John Cockfield related the successful battle to get pro-life language in a disability rights document. Most importantly, they have blocked the continual efforts of the Center for “Reproductive Rights” from establishing an international right to abortion.

Finally, I went to a presentation by Rai Rojas, who I only knew on Facebook, about Hispanic outreach. has many Hispanic supporters, especially from my old stomping grounds at the University of Miami, but their numbers have not been increasing as quickly compared to white supporters. Rojas gave me some good advice that I hope to implement soon.

And so the convention comes to an end. I’ve had a wonderful time, met lots of cool people, and learned a ton. I hope I’ll see you there next year: June 23-25, 2011 in Jacksonville, FL!