Friday, February 2, 2007

What Does it Mean to Vote Pro-Life? [SK] the question Jay's excellent posts (see here and here) got me thinking about. I'd love to hear Jay, Serge, Bob, and any of our readers take a shot at it.

Here are two teasers to get the discussion started.

1) Suppose you are asked to sign a "pro-life pledge"--as I was a few years back. The pledge reads (paraphrase) "I will never vote for a congressional candidate that is not pro-life."

Do you sign?

2) Suppose at the executive level, it's Rudy versus Hillary in 08. Rudy consistently says that while he personally supports a woman's decision to choose abortion and would sign congressional bills supporting that decision, he's convinced the Court overstepped in Roe. In fact, he calls the decision "an exercise of raw judicial tyranny unworthy of a Court dedicated to interpreting the law rather than making it." He cites Alito, Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia as models of judicial restraint. Thus, he's fine with gutting Roe or even abolishing it. But if Congress then wants to federalize abortion rights at the legislative level, he'll support that effort even if the bill's provisions are every bit as permissive as Roe's.

Hillary, meanwhile, insists she'll only appoint judges who can be counted on to uphold Roe.

What's your pick? A) sit the election out, B) pick a write-in candidate with no hope of winning, C) limit the damage by going with Gulliani, D) vote for Hillary to teach the Republicans a lesson.


  1. D. But before getting to D, I will work hard to ensure he is NOT the nominee. If we are to have atleast one political party that defends life, and will be serious about ending the attacks on life, we must not fall for picking "the lesser of two evils". But the option comes well before that. Get involved in the Republican party to take part in selecting the nominee. Attend your caucus and conventions. Vote and debate on resolutions to only choose candidates for office who represent the party platform, and make sure that platform expresses not only a "belief" in pro-life principles, but calls for action on them.

  2. The easiest way for me to address this, Scott, is to refer back to my most recent post in my own blog -- .

    The debate is on -- and it's already vicious -- between Operation Rescue which is willing to support an "abortion ban" which nevertheless upholds the "right to abort rape babies" and a growing number of no-compromise groups such as ALL, Operation Save America and Colorado Right to Life.

    It IS a matter of principle. It CANNOT be a matter of politics, because the politics negates the principle. Principle -- "the RIGHT to life" -- is the strongest tool we have in our arsenal to soon effect a total end to abortion in at least some states, if not nationwide.

    Remember how we got rid of slavery -- by agreeing as a country that we could not allow slavery in ANY circumstances.

    My answer to your poll would have to be "B". If 10% or even 5% of the electorate, who normally vote Republican, refuse to vote for compromise (which is what happened in 2006), then the Republican Party will realize that it has to be real about its commitment to pro-life issues in order to win.

    If they won't listen to reason, they will listen to the sound of failure. Sound failure. They cannot help but listen, and learn. They will, but only if they are held to account.

    Ed Hanks

  3. A modified version of B. Don't you guys have the Constitution Party on your ballots in your states? You don't even have to write the candidate in.

    What's the matter with people talking about voting for Giuliani? The day I see Giuliani for President signs in the yards of my pro-life and conservative friends is the day conservatism is virtually dead in the United States!

  4. Ed,
    You're only partly right about slavery. You write: "Remember how we got rid of slavery -- by agreeing as a country that we could not allow slavery in ANY circumstances."

    That's true as far as it goes, but you've left lots out. You might also add that we abolished the moral permissibility of slavery in stages. For example, Lincoln's 1862 Emancipation Proclamation--issued after the battle of Antietam--only applied to slaves south of the Mason Dixon Line (where it had no practical impact anyway). And during his early campaign speeches, he sometimes said he only wanted to limit the expansion of slavery into new territories, not abolish it outright. Later, once war began, he said his primary goal was to first preserve the Union.

    So, yes, the country eventually abolished slavery outright and did so with no exceptions. But the great leader most responsible for its demise embraced the very incremental strategy some pro-lifers find immoral.

  5. Ed,
    I don't think you are dealing charitably with OR's position. From what I understand, the group does not support the killing of unborn humans conceived by rape. Rather, it wants to save all unborn humans and will accept, provisionally, a bill that saves most while the group continues pressing for complete protection for all. That is, should a rape-excpetion bill be passed, O.R. will rejoice that 97% of children are protected, but continue striving to protect the 3% that are not.

    Now, you may disagree with O.R.'s position, but it's quite different from the way you described it.

  6. SK, your distinction is important. I want to raise a caution here, though, regarding endorsement of candidates. I do believe that the National Right to Life has not been sufficiently careful about the distinction you make when it comes to endorsing candidates. That is, they endorse candidates who would "promote" or "support" laws with rape and incest exceptions without any concern as to whether those exceptions would be allowed merely as a hopefully temporary strategic measure, hoping the laws would be tightened later, or whether the candidate really believes abortion is _moral_ under those circumstances or at least _should_ be legal. For example, it's not clear to me at all that President Bush takes the former rather than the latter position.

  7. Lydia,
    Thanks for your comment.
    National Right to Life (NRTL) can reasonably support a candidate that is less than perfect if, given current political realities, that candidate is the best viable option we have for limiting evil.

    This is true even at the Primary level. Say, for example, the only choice you have is between a GOP incumbent who will back us on everything but rape/incest (because he thinks abortions for that reason are morally okay), and his primary challenger who supports a complete ban on abortion. Let's further suppose the less than perfect incumbent will likely win the general election against the pro-abortion Democrat, but his challenger--even if he should win--has very little chance of beating the pro-abort Dem in the Fall election. (And remember: If DEMs win control of the chamber, pro-life legislation is DOA.) So, what's the pro-life vote in that case? Do you go with the perfect candidate and substantially risk losing in the general election (including loss of party control in the chamber), or do you cast your lot with the guy who, though not perfect, will work to advance most of your agenda should he win?

    As Greg Koukl says, a second-class fireman is better than a first-class arsonist.

    That's not to say I agree with everything NRTL does, but on this point I understand what the organization is thinking.

  8. SK, I used to listen to that line of reasoning, but I think it has done harm. If we can't vote for the candidate who really represents our views in the party at the level of the primary, when can we? And how can we exercise meaningful influence in our own political parties if we are thinking about the general election all the time, even during the primary, and voting down better candidates for worse ones even at that point? I believe the GOP has come to take pro-life voters far too much for granted because of the kinds of moves NRTL has made with just this sort of reasoning.

    I could go into even more detail here on policy matters: Just to give two examples, NRL spent lots of money and put huge amounts of time fighting McCain-Feingold, then they refused to criticize Bush when he signed it, because they'd also invested so much in playing him up as a candidate. Another one: NRL used to write a great deal about research using aborted fetal tissue, until Bush was elected and it turned out his NIH was funding it. The Family Research Council blew the gaff on that one, and NRL Doug Johnson gave an interview in which he expressly downplayed it as being less important than a ban on embryo farming. Yet the principle is the same, and ironically, it may turn out in the long run that tissue from more developed fetuses is more useful for research than cells taken from early embryos. What will they do then, when they have already abandoned what used to be a core issue for them in their desire to support Bush at any cost?

    Thus it turns out that the reasonable-sounding strategic moves you are talking about have, by wedding the flagship pro-life organization to one particular candidate, undermined pro-life resolve and clarity about issues.

  9. Lydia,
    you write, "If we can't vote for the candidate who really represents our views in the party at the level of the primary, when can we?"

    Answer: More important than voting for a candidate who represents our views is voting for one that can actually play a part in advancing them. However, advance is nearly impossible without majority control of Congress. Thus, voting for a primary candidate who supports our view 100% but who will likely lose in the general election does not increase our chances of saving unborn children. It just puts the other party--the one that supports the wholesale killing of unborn humans-- that much closer to power. In short, the pro-life voter must always take into account the bigger political picture. He must ask, "Will my vote for a perfect pro-lifer actually save children or will it set the cause back politically and legislatively?" The answer to that question will vary from district to district, but savvy pro-life voters cannot avoid asking it.

    You are right about one thing, though. Political calculations are not an exact science and sometimes pro-life leaders get it wrong. For example, Pat Tomey came very close to beating Arlen Specter in the PA primary of 04 and would have had not GWB, Santorum, and various pro-life leaders gone for the pro-abort Specter. Everyone from Bush on down failed to take into account Tomey's strong polling numbers prior to the election. They were convinced Tomey could not win the general election later that Fall, but I think his strong polling data said otherwise. And given Specter's militant pro-abortion advocacy, it made sense (to me, anyway) to take a reasonable risk at losing his seat to gain a better Senator.

    But suppose Spector was mostly with us, save for rape and incest. Suppose further Tomey's chances in the general election (according to a consensus of polling data available at the time) were a longshot at best. Do you seriously think we should risk the likely loss of a good senator to hopefully gain a perfect one? In short, you can't just look at the primary. You must also consider the bigger picture.

  10. What should you do? You should vote for a third party candidate.

    True, the chances of a third party candidate winning is slim to none but, a message must be sent to the Republican Party that running a pro-choice candidate will not be accepted.

  11. I'm glad to hear what you say about Toomey, SK. See, here's what I've seen over the years: The sorts of considerations you're raising about deliberately voting for the more "electable" candidate in the primary sound reasonable as far as you've stated them. But they breed a habit of pragmatism in people that leads to a more or less knee-jerk support for the incumbent or for the "electable" candidate, even if he's way off and not with us at all. And they breed a knee-jerk pessimism about a more pro-life non-incumbent running in the primary. Everybody more or less _automatically_ says, "He can't win. We need to have a majority in Congress. Blah, blah." And then it's a self-fulfilling prophecy and we've more or less given up all hope of ever trying to get anybody better.

    Your example is a very good one. Do you really think that GWB agonized over supporting Specter? No way. It was the party, all the way. That wasn't some sort of careful, pro-life tactical calculation. It's that the incumbent president stood by the incumbent senator of his same party. And Santorum got bullied into supporting it. Now we're to the point where pro-lifers are seriously considering voting for somebody like Rudy Giuliani, who is totally pro-abortion, even to the point of supporting PBA. He's not pro-life in the slightest degree.

    The thing is, if this is where calculations of "electability" have brought us, maybe we need to backtrack and wonder whether we've lost sight of something along the way. Should we not have some sort of line in the sand and say, "This far and no farther"?

  12. Lydia,
    I've pretty much stated my case here and perhaps we'll just have to agree to disagree on a few points.

    Overall, most of us who support incremtalism for tactical reasons have not, and will not, become knee-jerk pragmatists. (My latest blogpost address, in some detail, that problem.) We simply want to limit the evil insofar as possible given current political realities.

    William Wilberforce supported incremetal steps to bans slavery in GB, but never lost sight of the larger goal: freedom for all slaves.

    I think most pro-lifers are capable of staying focused on the larger game plan even while we accept short-yardage gains in the short-term.

    Best Regards,

  13. I'm still not totally sure I understand your position, SK, though. So if you'll bear with me, I'm just trying to figure out where you are in fact coming from. Is the point of your main post that we should vote for Giuliani? Option C? I ask because you don't say what you would do.

    I'm sure we probably will have to agree to disagree. I'm just curious as to how far we disagree.

    In that case, do you have any limit to the positions a candidate could take where you would not vote for him and where you would take one of the other options? Or do you feel you always have a duty to vote in the general election for one of the candidates?

  14. Lydia,
    I've not said we should vote for Gulliani. I just tossed out the question to get a discussion going because pro-lifers may indeed face this choice come 08.

    My larger point is simply this: We should always vote pro-life. At the legislative level, that sometimes means voting for a less-than ideal candidate in order to keep the chamber in control of the party most willing to 1) advance our agenda, or, barring that, 2) limit evil insofar as possible. It goes without saying that with Dems in control, we foreclose on both of those options.

    So yes, I could easily envision voting for a less-than perfect GOP incumbent over his "perfect" primary rival if that rival stands little chance of beating his Dem counterpart in the general election. From this it follows that I'm also willing to vote for a pro-abort Republican over a pro-life Democrat in the general election. After all, the only way a pro-life Dem will ever get to vote on a pro-life bill is if his party is not in control of chamber. True, he might help us stop a few very bad bills from gaining enough votes to override a Presidential veto (like a handful of House Dems did last month on ESCR funding)--but moving our agenda forward is simply out of the question.

    Of course, everything I said above is contingent on the GOP remaining a party that more or less works with pro-lifers (which should happen if pro-lifers do the hard work at the grass roots of controlling Central and Platform Committee assignments). If, however, the GOP starts tipping more toward the abortion-choice side, or refuses to advance even modest legislation, we'd need to rethink things and start punishing those who defy us. But I don't think we're yet at that point, as the majority of GOPers support us at some level. To sum up the legislative question, if my alleged "pro-life" vote for a pro-life Dem puts the pro-abort party in control of Congress, have I really voted pro-life? Perhaps I'm wrong about that, but that's my take right now.

    Things are different at the executive level. A solid pro-life Democrat (say a Bob Casey Sr. type) could, indeed, advance our cause. Fat chance of ever seeing a Dem nominee of that caliber, however.

    Sadly, we could see a Gulliani vs. Hillary choice in the near future. I'm just asking readers to think what pro-life voting means in that (terrible) situation.

    I'll post my own thoughts on THAT question later.

  15. One consequence of voting for Guilani (or a pro-choice Republican candidate) which I think has been overlooked is what happens in 2012 if Guilani is elected. One major problem I have with voting for a pro-choice Republican candidate for President is that if he or she wins then that virtually guarantees 8 years of a pro-choice candidate in the White House since that incumbent President is the major favorite for Republican nomination and it's about 1 in a million the Democrats would nominate a prolifer. I think it would also signal to Republican candidates that being prolife (or at least opposed to abortion) is no longer a necessary criteron for the presidential nomination.

    Is four years of a pro-choice Dem. (with the chance of getting a prolifer after 4 years) better than the guarantee of 8 years of a pro-choice President?

  16. Yes, I think that if Giuliani becomes the GOP candidate in '08, that says something very ominous about the Republican Party. How can we say that they are still "working with us" as a party if their presidential nominee is totally pro-abortion? In fact, I think pro-lifers should look very soberly at the high probability right now that the GOP candidate will either be, like Giuliani, entirely pro-abortion or else, like McCain or Romney, shaky or questionable, and ask themselves what that says about the direction the GOP has gone in the past ten years.

    By the way, regarding SK's point in the main post to the effect that Giuliani would supposedly work his hardest to appoint justices who would overturn Roe, note PLB's post today on pro-life blogs:

    That interview with Colmes does not read to me like it's coming from a man who would be on a mission to overturn Roe, whatever he may have said about it! He sounds like he's trying to tell us that, hey, he'd vote for Roberts _or_ Ginsberg, because, hey, they're both "smart people" and "qualified lawyers." So according to G., you can be well-qualified for the Supreme Court even if you are deeply committed, as Ginsberg is, to an "exercise of raw judicial tyranny," etc.

    What all this says to me--and PLB more or less makes this point--is that SK's pro-Giuliani point in the main post is something conservatives are cooking up on his behalf. We haven't gotten any "I would work my durndest to overturn Roe, I'd be sure to appoint justices like Scalia" promises from G. himself. So even if that would be a sufficient reason to support him--which I don't grant--it's hypothetical. Like so many of these supposed dilemmas for pro-lifers. It won't even come up. But "conservative" Giuliani supporters probably (I predict) will cite it from here on out as though he's really made such a pledge.

    (And yes, SK, I note you haven't said for sure you'd support G. But I also note that you seem to be gearing up to do so.)

  17. Lydia,
    My Rudy Gulliani post was a "what if" scienerio. I never said Rudy would take the position on judges I attributed to him in my post. I merely said WHAT IF he does. In short, the whole post is simply meant to provoke discussion.

    Your claim that I'm moving toward supporting Rudy is somewhat of a mystery to me. I gather you must have prophetic skills to know what I truly think about him, given I've said nothing about him.

  18. SK, perhaps I misunderstood your sentence in the main post beginning, "Giuliani consistently says..." I took that to be a statement of what Giuliani really does say, not just a "suppose Giuliani consistently says..." etc. Now, let's face it: Bill Kristol _has_ made this as an argument conservatives could follow for making themselves feel all right about supporting Giuliani. I took it that you were not simply making the whole thing hypothetical but were saying, "Suppose, hypothetically, it's Rudy vs. Hillary. Now _we do know_ that this is Giuliani's position on Roe, so what should we do?" This does, I think you'll have to admit, sound like tending towards advising conservatives to vote for Rudy if he shd. be the candidate. And that especially in light of your repeated comments about strategy and the Party.

    I want to add something about the phrase "it follows." In an earlier comment, you said that you cd. see voting for a less-than-perfect Republican candidate over a more perfect candidate if this would have more of a chance to advance the pro-life agenda because the less-than-perfect candidate had a better chance of winning. You then said "it follows" that you would vote for a pro-abortion Republican over a pro-life Democrat for strategic reasons. (E.g. To keep the Republicans in control of a chamber.) Actually, it doesn't follow. (You shd. watch the use of a phrase like "it follows" in conversation with an analytic philosopher. Grin.) All that follows from your first claim is that you consider it to be relevant and important that the relatively more pro-life party retain control of Congress. It doesn't follow that this is an overriding consideration that would lead you to go so far as to vote for someone who isn't only "less than perfect" but is totally pro-abortion.

    In fact, it seems to me that a pretty balanced position would be to give _some_ consideration to the strategic concerns you are raising about party control but to draw the line at voting for someone who, in his own positions, is not pro-life at all. In other words, the candidate's own positions must be relevant as well.

  19. Lydia,
    I won't pretend to match your expertise in analytical philosophy, so correction accepted on my technical imprecision in using the term "it follows."

    However, it surely does not follow from what I've previously written that I am coming out for Gulliani. I've made clear distinctions between a pro-life strategy at the legislative level and one aimed at the executive--a distinction that so far you seem not to recognize. It simply does not follow that because I would urge voting for a pro-abort liegislative guy, I would support an executive level one.

  20. You're right. It doesn't follow that you will support Rudy, and you have made the distinction you mention. On the other hand, you've brought up what is without doubt being used "in the air" by various people as a definite arg. for pro-life conservatives to vote for Giuliani. I'm inferring that this is _plausibly_ the way you will go given all your comments thus far taken together. I may be wrong in that inference and will be glad to find that out if so.

    Y'know, it isn't just a petty logical scoring point about those other positions and whether one follows from the other. The point I was trying to make is that one can take pragmatism up to a point and then, without any inconsistency, say, "No farther."

  21. Lydia,

    I think pragmatism can mean a couple of different things in this case.

    1) It could mean I justify bad behavior with pragmatism: "Well, boys will be boys, so let's make sure they use condoms and if their girlfriends get pregnant, lets make sure these boys have money to pay for abortions."

    2) But pragmatism can also mean I'm working to acheive the greatest moral good possible given the hand I've been dealt. Unlike the first example, here my overriding concern is not the justification of (or surrender to) an immoral action, but the limiting of that action insofar as possible given the circumstances. In the first example, I've stopped opposing evil (indeed, I'm cooperating with it). In the second, I'm still in the fight for good, doing all that can be done to save as many lives as possible. In this case, it seems the prudential (pragmatic) considerations slip over into the moral category, making it somewhat dicy to separate the two with a clean break.

    If it's #2 that you mean, I guess you could say I'm a pragmatist.

  22. Lydia,
    The above anonymous post is mine. I checked the wrong option when submitting my comment.

  23. Scott,

    I'm sure you're not surprised to find that I disagree with your position. But, further, I am SHOCKED that you would say it's better to vote for a pro-abortion Republican rather than a pro-life Democrat.

    It's exactly that kind of thinking that has allowed pro-lifers to "lose" the Republican Party. They do not generally support us -- they generally support us as little as they can get away with, because they have "more important" things to do. They just know they have to keep us happy, which usually means lip-service, absent action.

    Tentatively, I'm going to claim to be "the most inside insider" who posts here -- I've seen the Republican Party from the board rooms and executive offices.

    There is no serious pro-life agenda in D.C.'s Republican Party today. It's a distraction to their real agenda. Most GOP officeholders view conservative Christians with contempt -- as the "crazies" they have to do business with to get elected.

    One reason for that is we've allowed them to "define principle down" -- we've said that it's okay to be pro-choice as long as you oppose Partial Birth Abortion, or -- Scott! -- it's okay if you favor Partial Birth Abortion so long as you support the party which sometimes opposes Partial Birth Abortion (even if you'll never vote with us on that issue).

    Ed Hanks

  24. Lydia--
    Here's my own take, which I also posted over at Right Reason:

    If I cannot advance good with my vote, my next goal should be to limit evil in so far as possible given the circumstances. Whether voting Rudy over Hillary (or over a thrid-party, unelectable candidate) does that will depend on many factors I've not yet sorted out. But if voting Rudy does indeed have the best shot at limiting at least some of the evil, that's the way I'll go. However, I'm not sold yet and won't be until options for advancing the good (Go Mitt go!) are gone.

  25. Ed,

    You say, "Most GOP officeholders view conservative Christians with contempt -- as the "crazies" they have to do business with to get elected."

    Okay, prove it.

    I want names so we can total up the score to see if that's really true. Seriously, if you cannot provide names and prove that claim, you should retract it.

    You also lose credibility when you say my position on voting for pro-abort Republicans (at the legislative level) over pro-life Democrats causes pro-lifers to "lose" the Republican Party.


    What do you mean by "lose?" You surely don't mean there's no real difference between the two parties, do you? And if you do, what's your evidence for such a sweeping claim?

    You also assert that R's do almost nothing for us, another wild claim. I agree they could do more, but am I to take it that stopping federal funding of destructive embryo research, restricting PBA, possibly selecting 2 anti-ROE SCOTUS justices, and, at the state level, abortion-control legislation that saves many lives (see Michael New's research released today), counts for nothing? Try running that by the thousands of children alive today because those do-nothing Republicans worked, state-by-state, to enact them.

    But then again, you think anything short of a total ban is a total defeat--that until we can save all unborn humans we shouldn't try to save some.

    You're entitled to your view, Ed. But you fail to impress when you don't distinguish between "they do nothing" and "they could do more."

    Finally, take a look at the provisional reasons I gave for supporting pro-abort GOP candidates (at the legislative level) over pro-life Dem ones. My comments above state cleary what I think. After you've read them, tell me where my moral reasoning fails.


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