Principles of Pro-life Voting

“Vote Pro-life.”

A common refrain this time of year. It’s good advice, but it requires more than a bit of interpretation. According to the Sojourners crowd, voting pro-life means casting ballots for unyielding stalwarts of taxpayer funded abortion (but don’t worry, they still want to reduce the incidence of abortion /sarc). Others have far stricter litmus tests, like support for a right to life Constitutional amendment. Here are my own, non-definitive thoughts about the best ways to truly vote pro-life

What is ‘Pro-life’?

Kay Bailey Hutchison, a retiring Republican Senator from Texas, is on record as favoring the right to abortion. In 2003, she voted to support the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. And yet, she usually got high marks from pro-life organizations based on her Senate voting record. In the present Congress for example, she voted to defund Planned Parenthood, and supported the Blunt amendment to overturn the HHS mandate. Essentially, she’s a pro-life vote on almost anything short of an outright ban.

Some pro-life organizations advise against voting for legislators like Hutchison. I disagree with that thinking. Hutchison is not ideal, but I will gladly accept smaller legislative victories like defunding PP. If a legislator will vote the right way on every measure that actually has a decent chance of passing, that’s good enough for me.

For the purposes of voting, I consider a candidate “pro-life” if they oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, support conscience protections for medical professionals and institutions, and support common sense restrictions on practices like partial-birth or sex selective abortion. Some Democrats do not even meet these minimal standards, but still insist on disingenuously calling themselves “pro-life” –  for this reason, be wary of any Democrat who applies that label to himself.

Pro-choice Republican vs. Pro-choice Democrat

This is always a painful match-up. As much as it grieves me, I would probably vote for the Republican. First of all, just as “pro-life” Democrats can actually be quite pro-choice, many “pro-choice” Republicans will often vote with pro-lifers depending on the precise issue. In 2011, there was one vote where every Republican in the House of Representatives, including those who call themselves “pro-choice”, voted against taxpayer funded abortion. Also consider that if there had been just one more Republican in the Senate in 2009, whether pro-life or pro-choice, there would be no Obamacare today.

Sometimes though, the pro-choice Republican really is a total dud. Jacob Javits, a New York Senator until 1981, is a good example of a legislator who was utterly worthless to conservatives of any stripe. Even in those cases, I would still vote for the Republican. With a few exceptions, like the West Virginia legislature, no pro-life legislation is ever likely to get through unless Republicans have majorities. Committee chairmanships are extremely important.

What about voting for a third party candidate, or not voting? I look at either of those actions as basically ceding the decision to the rest of the electorate – saying that you do not care which of the two principal candidates wins. Because of committee chairmanships, I think there’s almost always reason to care who wins. I will admit an exception to this rule if the vast majority of Republicans in a state are pro-choice. This may or may not be the case in some of the New England states.

There is also the argument that it is best for the Republican party to be purified, and therefore pro-choice Republicans should be stopped whenever possible. This is a powerful line of reasoning. But in my opinion it should be reserved for primaries. If a pro-choice Republican cannot be taken down in a primary, the problem is not with the candidate – the problem is with the Republican voters.

Pro-life Republican vs. Pro-life Democrat

30 years ago, voting for the Democrat might have been a good idea. Pro-life Democrats were common in the party, and it would have been a shrewd move to help keep them common. Today, however, pro-life Democrats are almost extinct, and they’re not coming back. So you’re better off sticking with the Republican. A voter can rightfully question why a pro-life politician would purposefully align himself with such a horrifyingly anti-life political party. And once again, there is the question of which party controls the legislature. With Pelosi as Speaker, or Leahy as chairman of the judiciary committee, it’s cold comfort that some of the Democrats who put them in those positions are pro-life.

Pro-choice Republican vs. Pro-life Democrat

This might be the trickiest match up of all. Once again, voters should remember that “pro-life” Democrats and “pro-choice” Republicans do not always live up to their labels. And once again, voters should remember that leadership on the committees and in the legislature as a whole is crucially important. For these reasons, the Indiana Right to Life chapter decided in 2010 that they would no longer endorse pro-life Democrats. As a spokesman said, “We want people to understand that Democratic leaders have forced us to draw this hard line. We’ve tried to work with Democratic legislators in good faith, but their actions speak louder than words. Our legislation is killed every year by Democrats in the state legislature. Top Democratic leaders in Washington are dismantling pro-life gains we’ve worked for over four decades to achieve. And now we have been betrayed by three Indiana Democratic congressmen on the health care reform vote at the precise time when we needed them the most.”

Thus, much as I would hate to do so, I think I would vote for the Republican in most of these cases. But I can think of some circumstances where voting for the Democrat would be better. If Republicans have a safe legislative majority, but many of the Republican legislators are pro-choice, voting for the Democrat is a very wise move. Also, if it’s a race for governor, I would not hesitate at all to vote for a strongly pro-life Democrat. Finally, in states where Democrats dominate the legislatures, I would definitely vote for the Democrat. In Rhode Island for example, the Republicans have no hope of capturing the legislature for the foreseeable future, but there still is a very strong pro-life presence within the Democratic party.


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