The Sad Politics Of Abortion

May 18th, 2024 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

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At the heart of the pro-life movement is the deep-seated conviction that from the moment of conception, an unborn child is a separate human life.  Although the baby is completely dependent on the mother, it is still a separate human life. The baby’s life is not more important than the mother’s—which is why the best-drafted pro-life laws protect the life and physical health of the mother—but it possesses incalculable worth nonetheless. “Absent extreme circumstances, the unborn child must not be intentionally killed. And while pro-life Americans can disagree about how to protect unborn children—whether it’s primarily through legal restrictions, primarily through measures meant to reduce the demand for abortion, or primarily through a combination of abortion restrictions or financial assistance to mothers and families—there has long been agreement on that one core claim: From the moment of conception, an unborn child is a person worth protecting.”

However, conservative columnist and evangelical Christian David French observes that “When the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that I.V.F. embryos were subject to the state’s wrongful death statute, it forced the pro-life movement to fully examine the cultural and political implications of its position on unborn children, and pro-life Republicans blinked. They caved, almost instantly, on a core philosophical element of the movement—the incalculable value of every human life no matter how small—and the movement is now standing by or even applauding as Trump is turning the Republican Party into a pro-choice party, one more moderate than the Democrats, but pro-choice still.”

French makes several additional points worth considering:

  • “[T]he Alabama Supreme Court’s decision in February holding that the state’s wrongful death statute applied to embryos frozen and preserved as part of the in vitro fertilization process should not have been surprising at all. If state law can declare an unborn child to be a separate human life, then of course that would apply to all unborn children, including those conceived as part of fertility treatments. Even though the embryos are frozen and exist outside the womb, they are still human—no less human than those created through conventional means.”
  • “While I always respected arguments about the personhood of the baby, I was often frustrated when critics would attribute malign motives to pro-life Americans. I’d been a part of the pro-life movement my entire adult life. I began my activism in college and represented pro-life students and pro-life groups in my legal career, and I’d never seen a desire for subjugation and control. While I don’t pretend that any political movement is perfect, I’ve seen with my own eyes pro-life activists and volunteers demonstrate immense love and compassion for women in distress, trying desperately to care for mother and child by offering financial, emotional and spiritual support.”
  • “Let’s review the events since the Alabama court’s decision.
  1. First, Alabama Republicans panicked. The Republican-dominated Legislature raced to pass a law that granted I.V.F. clinics sweeping immunityfrom the state’s wrongful death statute. Alabama also has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country. As my newsroom colleague Emily Cochrane politely put it, the vote ‘demonstrated the intense urgency among Republicans to protect I.V.F. treatments, even if that meant sidestepping the thorny contradictions between their pledge to protect unborn life and fertility treatment practices.’ At the conclusion of I.V.F. treatments, unused embryos are often discarded and destroyed.”
  2. Second, “Trump reversed his previous position supporting a 20-week ban on abortion; he announced that he would not support a national abortion ban if he wins the presidency, and he said the policy should instead be left up to the states. This is a traditional pro-life position, but only if you also urge states to use their autonomy to pass pro-life bills. Instead, Trump’s adviceto voters was to ‘follow your heart’ and ‘do what’s right for your family, and do what’s right for yourself.’ It’s ‘all about the will of the people,’ he said.  This is the most pro-choice position a Republican presidential candidate has taken since at least Gerald Ford. And how did the pro-life establishment respond? With mild criticism, but also with immediate support.  As Politico reported . . . ‘Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Students for Life, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the Family Research Council, National Right to Life and Catholic Vote reiterated their commitment Monday morning to electing Trump.’  Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, one of the largest right-wing student and faith outreach organizations in the country, immediately posted his support, calling the statement ‘masterful’ and said that the pro-life leaders he’d talked to were ‘very happy.’”
  3. Third, “the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a statutefrom 1864 prohibiting virtually all abortions in the state. The Arizona Republican Kari Lake, who is running for her party’s nomination for Senate, immediately disagreed with the ruling, a reversal of her previous position supporting the state abortion ban. She also posted a statement promising that she would not support a federal abortion ban if elected senator. Instead, she promised to protect I.V.F. and proposed a laundry list of policies intended to ease the financial burden of child care, including ‘baby bonuses,’ paid family leave and extending the child tax credit.”

French appropriately poses this important question: “So where is the Republican pro-life consensus today?” Philosophically, the movement is breaking. There is no coherent pro-life argument for why a state should prevent women who become pregnant through natural means from destroying an embryo while protecting the ability of families who create an embryo through I.V.F. to either destroy it or keep it frozen indefinitely.  “It’s no wonder, then, that the pro-life cause is in a state of emergency so soon after its greatest legal triumph, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It has lost every referendum since the Supreme Court decided Dobbs, including ballot measures in red states like Kentucky, Kansas, Montana and Ohio. Early polling indicates that Florida’s proposed pro-choice referendum may well cross the 60 percent threshold needed to pass and overturn the state’s six-week abortion ban. In fact, a majority of Republican voters appear to support the referendum. Even more ominously from a pro-life perspective, the abortion rate rose under Trump, and the total number of abortions has actually increased since the Dobbs decision . . . I still believe there are many deeply sincere pro-life Americans. I see their anger in response to Trump’s statements, even when they’ve previously supported him. They are people who genuinely believe that all human life is precious and should be protected from conception until natural death . . . The older I get, the more I’m convinced that we simply don’t know who we are — or what we truly believe — until our values carry a cost. For more than 40 years, the Republican Party has made the case that life begins at conception. Alabama’s Supreme Court agreed. Yet the Republican Party can’t live with its own philosophy. There is no truly pro-life party in the United States.”

Editorially, the Wall Street Journal posited several arguments concerning Kari Lake’s response to the Arizona Supreme Court decision mentioned above:

  • “Ms. Lake released a five-minute video on Thursday after the Arizona Supreme Court upheld an 1864 state law banning abortion except to save the mother’s life. A state court suspended the law after the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which the U.S. High Court reversed in 2022. Ms. Lake now says the ruling ‘is out of line with where the people of this state are,’ which may be true. Ms. Lake now also accepts a woman’s right to choose: ‘I chose life. But I’m not every woman.’
  • “She adds by way of changing the subject that she ‘had a real eye-opening experience this last summer,’ and her revelation is worth examining. ‘I had the opportunity to visit Hungary, and it completely changed my view of how we should deal with this complicated, difficult issue. In Hungary, what they did I thought was so amazing.’ When ‘you get married, they give you a cut in your tax rate.’  And ‘by the time a mother has four children, she never pays taxes again. That’s called a baby bonus. I think we should do that here in America. We bail out banks and multinational corporations all the time. When’s the last time we’ve given an assist to a struggling mother and a family?’
  • “Ms. Lake is in part playing to a portion of the Trumpian right that is preoccupied with its Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Budapest offers a bevy of subsidies to families, plus the income-tax advantage . . . Such spending programs have failed to lift declining birth rates across the globe from Europe to Singapore.  The price tag is also astonishing. Hungary spends roughly 6% of its economy on family subsidies. That’s twice the share the United States dedicates to its entire military and national defense.  While she tries to escape the 1864 trap on abortion, Ms. Lake is walking into another one. Progressives have long pilloried Republicans as caring about children only until birth. As political cover, some Republicans line up for new programs such as paid family leave, which Ms. Lake also supports.  The U.S. is sorting out its views on abortion for the first time in decades, and we’ve counseled Republicans to develop a more cogent policy that meets most voters where they are. But if Republicans start running on converting the U.S. into a European welfare state to dodge difficult questions on abortion, they will keep losing and deserve it.”

See David French, “That Was Quick” in the New York Times (11 April 2024); and “Kari Lake’s Baby Bonus Bust” in the Wall Street Journal (15 April 2024).

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