Among a number of political narratives popular in the secular press is this one: Talking about abortion hurts Republican political candidates.
Here’s a sampling, all from 2015:
“Abortion ban proposal could help in GOP primaries but hurt in Senate” – Los Angeles Times
All Things in Moderation: Republicans and Democrats would be wise to hew to the center in the 114th Congress – U.S. News and World Report
Abortion poses challenge for GOP in 2016 – CNN Politics
And so it goes.
Is abortion a contentious social issue? Certainly; polls regularly show how divided Americans are concerning abortion.
But conservatives win when they eschew the epithets of the abortion-on-demand crowd and its allies in the media and stand compassionately but consistently for life. “Anti-choice extremist” is the standard rhetorical thrust of the pro-abortion Left. It’s an unpleasant, demeaning, hostile, and inaccurate label, but it shouldn’t persuade anyone to forsake the bedrock medical truth that human personhood begins at conception and thus merits protection under law.
From a strictly political standpoint, abortion kills unborn children, not elections. A political candidate who graciously but firmly articulates the view that the unborn child has value and should be protected by law and that her mother deserves something better than abortion is placed at risk only by what political commentator Charles C.W. Cooke calls “pusillanimity” on the issue.
Look at last fall’s election: A pro-life majority was elected to the House of Representatives. As reported by my former FRC colleague Tom McClusky of the March for Life, “Republicans (had) a net gain of close to 350 seats and control over 4,100 of the nation’s 7,383 legislative seats. That is their highest number of legislators since 1920. Republicans gained seats in every region of the country and in all but about a dozen legislative chambers that were up this year.”
The vast majority of those Republicans are pro-life.
Consider the results: The Guttmacher Institute, one-time research arm of the nation’s leading abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, reports that the pro-life movement is continuing to gain ground:
By April 1, 53 abortion restrictions had been approved by a legislative chamber, and nine had been enacted. Many of the new abortion restrictions enacted this year would either limit the use of medication abortion (Arkansas and Idaho) or ban abortion at 20 weeks postfertilization (West Virginia) …
Over the past several years, pro-life successes have been dramatic. As reported by Pew Research just last week, “From 2011 to 2014, 231 abortion restrictions were enacted, while 189 were enacted during the previous decade (2001-2010). In Texas, the number of abortion clinics operating in the state has dropped from 41 in 2012 to 18 today in the wake of a number of abortion laws enacted in recent years.”
Some commentators say that Republican presidential candidates who stand for life invariably will lose in the general election. They base this on polling data indicating ambivalence about abortion among the various sectors of the American electorate.
What such analyses neglect is the nuance of the question being asked. If it is posed along the lines of, “Do you believe a woman should have control of her body?” many people will respond positively and, thus, advocates of elective abortion claim not only a messaging but a substantive victory.
But if the question is more along the lines of, “Do you believe that unborn babies have value independent of their mothers?” or “Should abortion centers have at least the same sanitary standards as a veterinary health clinic?” both the rhetorical and substantive grounds shift.
Significantly, Pew Research’s June 2015 study has also found “There’s a difference between what Americans think should be legal and what they think is moral. About half of Americans (49%) say that having an abortion is morally wrong, while 15% think it is morally acceptable and 23% say it is not a moral issue.”
What a vindication of the reality of “the works of the law written on the heart” (Romans 2:15), of the conscience’s abiding presence in the inner life! And what an opportunity for caring and thoughtful Christians to persuade their fellow citizens that the unborn deserve the protection of both law and womb, and that their mothers deserve support and compassion, not a surgeon’s knife or a clinic’s sterile cruelty.
Conservative candidates need to be careful in the way they present their positions on many issues, including abortion. Phrasing matters, and verbal ineptitude does more harm than good. Preparation, knowledge, compassion, and conviction should be joined to equip political leaders to speak wisely and persuasively about sensitive and very personal issues that can provoke arguments rather than persuade the reasonable.
With that said, no media narrative can fully corrode the combination of moral discernment and basic reason that composes the conscience. No crass, non sequitur-esque verbal assaults by the abortion absolutists can defeat the sheer truth of the sanctity of unborn life. And no wishful thinking can deter from voting, in primaries and in the upcoming general election, those of us who believe the lives of women and their unborn children deserve protection and love.
Publication date: June 16, 2015