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What Mike Huckabee’s Victory in Iowa Means for Pro-Lifers

07 January 2008     Vol. 10 / No. 1

Dear Colleague,

Voters in the first of the fifty states have cast their votes, and the top four Republican finishers are all, to varying degrees, pro-life. The top four Democratic finishers in Iowa, on the other hand, are all on the other side of the abortion divide. Regardless of who the nominees are, the party of life will once again face the party of abortion in the general election. Pro-lifers, it now appears, will have a clear choice, not an echo.

Steven W. Mosher

What Mike Huckabee’s Victory in Iowa Means for Pro-Lifers

Now that the Iowa caucuses are over, pro-lifers can breathe a sigh of relief. For their worst case scenario–that the nominees of both major parties would be pro-abortion–has probably been averted.

There was a time when it seemed that Rudy Giuliani, who is emphatically not pro-life, might be the Republican nominee. But his dismal showing in Iowa–he placed sixth–has probably taken him out of contention. His refusal to contest New Hampshire as well, where the latest polls show him in single digits, is another nail in his political coffin. His strategy now, if it can be called that, is to retreat to the sidelines in the hope that the other candidates fight each other to a standstill, and then to win big in Florida. But the Sunshine State’s primary is still a month away, and Iowa winner Mike Huckabee has already pulled even with him in the polls there. The odds against Giuliani’s long-shot strategy succeeding are lengthening by the hour.

All of this is good news for pro-lifers. Simply put, it will be a disaster for the pro-life cause if Giuliani, or any Republican who is less than thoroughly pro-life, is nominated, and an even greater disaster if they are actually elected.

Here’s why.

The bully pulpit of the presidency would fall into the hands of someone who is indifferent to the tragedy of abortion. Not only would a President Giuliani not speak out against the practice, as Bush currently does at the annual March for Life, he would actively promote the idea that it is not the proper role of government to protect the lives of innocent unborn children. As far as enforcement is concerned, the Born-Alive Infants’ Protection Act would become a dead letter. And the likelihood of new legislation–banning sex-selective abortion, for example–would shrink to the vanishing point.

As bad as ceding the White House to someone of such sentiments would be, Giuliani’s nomination would bring an even worse prospect into view, namely, that of losing the Republican party as the party of life. In this case, the pro-life movement would become a political orphan.

The Republican party, it should be recalled, was not always pro-life. It became so only with the nomination of Ronald Reagan, who pushed for a pro-life plank to be added to the party platform drafted and approved at the Republican convention of 1980. The nomination of Rudi Giuliani could very well see this same process unfold in reverse, if not immediately then at the next presidential election cycle in 2012.

Against these grim prospects, Giuliani offered the hope and the promise that he would nominate justices in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Don’t count on it. Previous presidents with far stronger convictions than Giuliani have found it difficult to keep such pledges. Witness the Harriet Myers debacle. Giuliani, whose moral compass points in the wrong direction in any case, and who will be surrounded by staffers who reflect and reinforce his indifference towards life will, in my view, find it impossible.

If Giuliani’s defeat bodes well for pro-lifers, then so does Mike Huckabee’s victory. For of the top four finishers, Huckabee is by far the most eloquent defender of human life. He speaks with heartfelt conviction, even passion, on the issue of the unborn. Moreover, he is the only one of the candidates to support the passage of a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would once and for all ban all abortions throughout all fifty states. This is not mere rhetoric. As governor of Arkansas, he fought for–and won–the passage of just such an amendment.

This is not to say that I am endorsing Mike Huckabee. Nor is it to say that I doubt the pro-life convictions of John McCain and Fred Thompson–or even of Mitt Romney, a late convert to the pro-life cause–but only to point out that the other first-tier candidates have all had trouble actually explaining the grounds for their pro-life positions. Some have, truth be told, hardly tried.

Romney, of course, has the most to explain, since his record is littered with quotes like this one: "On a personal basis, I don’t favor abortion. However, as governor of the commonwealth, I will protect a woman’s right to choose under the laws of the country and the commonwealth. That’s the same position I’ve had for many years." (Erik Arvidson, Lowell Sun, March.20, 2002)

Romney now says that America is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade and return to the states the authority to permit or prohibit abortions, as the case may be. But when pressed on his earlier views on abortion, he says simply that he was "wrong." This brief and curiously bloodless explanation begs the question for many pro-lifers, who wonder whether his change of heart was a matter of deep soul-searching, or mere political convenience.

McCain, on the other hand, has a perfect pro-life voting record in the Senate. He calls Roe v. Wade a bad decision, and says that he supports the rights of the unborn. But he is dogged by a statement he made in 1999 to the effect that "In the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in American to undergo illegal and dangerous operations."

The Senator now says that this statement was made in the context of the prior need to change the culture of America with regard to the abortion issue. Yet what are pro-lifers to conclude from even his defense than that he is unwilling to fight the abortion status quo. But what they want is a president who, like Ronald Reagan, is willing to use his moral authority to actively promote a culture of Life, not one who passively waits for a change in tide of public opinion.

Then there is Fred Thompson, whose early endorsement by the National Right to Life Committee surprised many pro-lifers. He, like Romney and McCain, has not always been pro-life, and even now would not ban all abortions. Consider this revealing exchange on Meet the Press:

Q: You said in 1994 as a Senate candidate, "I’m not willing to support laws that prohibit early-term abortions. I’m not suddenly upon election as a senator going to know when life begins. It comes down to whether you believe life begins at conception. I don’t know in my own mind if that is the case so I don’t feel the law ought to impose that standard on other people." So you yourself don’t know when life begins?

A: No. I didn’t know then.

Q: You know now?

A: My public position has always been the same. I’ve been 100% pro-life in every vote that I’ve ever cast.

Q: Do you believe that life begins at conception, so abortion is the taking of a human life?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: But you would allow abortion to be performed in states if chosen by states for people who think otherwise?

A: I do not think that you can have a law that cuts off an age group or something like that. It cannot change the way I feel about it morally, but legally and practically, I’ve got to recognize that fact. (Source: Meet the Press: 2007 "Meet the Candidates" series, Nov 4, 2007)

I often find Thompson’s answers unintelligible. Here he confused me when he first admitted to having been publicly pro-choice, then a few seconds later claimed that his "public position has always been the same [100% pro-life]." What does come through clearly is that Thompson is not in favor of either a Human Life Amendment, or a law banning all abortions.

Many pro-lifers worry that, if these candidates are unable or unwilling to effectively defend the cause of Life now, when they are hotly contesting the pro-life vote, then they will be even less likely to do so as president, when they can pick and choose the topics they will address in speeches and at press conferences. The bully pulpit would be lost.

It is for this reason that I believe that–whoever the nominee ultimately is–Huckabee’s Iowa victory is good for the pro-life cause. The governor’s eloquence on the pro-life issue, as well as his willingness to lead on the question of a Human Life Amendment (instead of merely follow "public opinion"), will put pressure on the other candidates to be more openly pro-life as well. Babies can only benefit.

Steven Mosher is the President of PRI.

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