GOP Debaters’ Abortion Policies Need Life Support
As citizens who vote to protect life from conception until natural death, we weren’t surprised to awaken Thursday morning to some buzz about the questions on abortion during the third (too many) Republican debate held in Miami, Florida. It is stating the brutally obvious to observe that Republican candidates and even avowed pro-life elected officials have been struggling to communicate a vision of life in the post-Dobbs world. They have struggled to live up to governing with life-saving moral clarity and struggle to articulate a message more descriptive than “I’m pro-life” or, if we’re lucky, “I’m 100% pro-life.”
It was easy for politicians to talk about ending abortion before Roe’s repeal, when they wouldn’t be required to do anything about it. But those days are gone. Many candidates and elected officials are actually pro-life and ready to move forward. But it turns out there are others who are not as sure — and some of them, unfortunately, were on the debate stage Wednesday night.
Smarting from recent electoral setbacks, some Republicans have seemingly embraced a defeatist message on abortion. If the rhetoric in Miami is any indication, some candidates seem prepared to abandon the winning side of a wedge issue, the moral high ground, and the lion’s share of GOP primary voters.
While no candidate on the debate stage earned special praise for answers on life, one debater’s argument was particularly offensive.
Nikki Haley tried to craft a “consensus” answer on abortion while declaring herself “unapologetically pro-life.” Rather than attempt to pass federal pro-life protections, “let’s make sure we make contraception accessible,” she said, as if contraceptives had become as scarce as baby formula in Biden’s America. “Let’s make sure that none of these state laws put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty for getting an abortion. Let’s focus on how to save as many babies as we can and support as many moms as we can. And stop the judgment. We don’t need to divide America over this issue anymore.”
Pollster Frank Luntz called Haley’s response “the best Republican answer on abortion.” Talk radio host Clay Travis went so far as to proclaim it “the landslide Republican answer.” But repeating haggard liberal smears that accuse your party’s base of being divisive, judgmental ogres eagerly seeking to jail women suffering from post-abortion trauma is no way to win a primary, or a general, election.
It is, of course, a straw man argument. No state has passed, or seriously entertained, any law to put women to death for having an abortion. Caricaturing conviction voters will serve only to drive off the pro-life base, which constitute the overwhelming majority of Republican voters. The fraction of Republicans who believe abortion should be legal under all circumstances has fallen 72% since 1990, now standing at just 8%. A Gallup poll shows 90% of Republicans, 63% of independents, and 38% of Democrats reject the Democratic Party platform’s extreme view that enacting nationwide, taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand until the moment of birth is a matter of “health, rights, and justice.”
It will most offend those whose pro-life views flow naturally from their faith. Evangelical Christians of all races make up 42% of GOP voters, and 80% of Republicans belong to some religious tradition. Pro-life churches become the epicenter of pro-life activity each election year, dutifully organizing their members to knock on doors, distribute campaign literature, and drive their neighbors to the polls. The next Republican presidential candidate will need that energy.
While Americans’ views are not as firmly pro-life as we would like, they in no way approach the Democrats’ unrelenting support for the abortion industry. (A supporter of Ohio’s Issue 1 once declared, “Every abortion is essential.”) There is no reasoning with pro-abortion political operatives on this topic, as the Democratic Party’s reaction to Haley’s remarks proved. “Nikki Haley promised to do the same nationwide and sign any ANY national abortion ban — no matter how extreme. Make no mistake — Haley is an anti-abortion extremist who would rip away reproductive freedom from every single woman in this country if she could — she’s told us so before, and she made it crystal clear again tonight,” said DNC spokesperson Sarafina Chitika. “Haley is a MAGA extremist campaigning on a national abortion ban.”
But, to be fair, nearly every candidate committed a deliberate error last night. They were almost all eager to shift responsibility for this post-Dobbs problem to the states. “Let the states decide about abortion,” or “States will do things differently” is quickly becoming the GOP version of, “While I am personally pro-life, I would never force my views on others.” It’s not a good look, or a winning message.
Will any Republican candidate be able to find their way to proclaim a vision for life in America? Will anyone be able to revive an American Dream that demands good jobs, a life-affirming popular culture, and a middle-class family life with two parents and children financed on only one salary, at least while the kids are little? Such messaging can help build consensus around the simple truth that the unborn child is a human being endowed by her Creator with the right to life. And politicians who share that message will reap the electoral rewards.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.
Meg Kilgannon is Senior Fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council.