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Tap dancing around abortion

LEESBURG, Va. (BP)–Too often, modern political campaigns focus on a candidate’s ability to spin words into quick sound bites rather than whether the candidate has a consistent and meaningful worldview. By relying on 30-second commercials, made-for-TV debates and well-orchestrated “town hall meetings,” candidates are often able to deliver highly polished packages that are intended to camouflage what they really believe.

An example of this phenomenon is on display when it comes to Rudy Giuliani’s effort to tap dance around the abortion issue. Historically, Giuliani has been an unabashed supporter of “abortion rights”. Realizing that his position might be a liability in a Republican primary, Giuliani has engaged in political double-speak in an attempt to satisfy the Republican base. Giuliani’s explanation of his view, however, makes his position all the more inexplicable.

For example, America’s mayor is in the habit of explaining that he “personally” thinks that abortion is bad –- he says he hates it and that it is “morally wrong”. Even though he personally opposes abortion, however, he does not think it should be legally restricted. Indeed, Giuliani thinks it’s a woman’s “right” to have an abortion.

The question that arises is this: What makes abortion hateful in Giuliani’s mind? Why is it morally wrong? If it is simply a medical procedure in which a “mass” is removed from a woman’s womb, what’s so bad about that? Giuliani is certainly suggesting, by saying he “hates” this procedure, that he thinks abortion is more than a typical medical procedure. The fact that he says he is personally against it and feels that it is morally wrong suggests that he knows that abortion ends a human life. Why else would he be against it? But if Giuliani truly believes that innocent life is destroyed by abortion, then it is odd that he feels there is nothing the government should do about it, or that he would call such killing a “woman’s right.” A right to kill innocent life? Isn’t protecting innocent life a primary responsibility of the government?

These are difficult questions — questions Giuliani has rarely been forced to confront. At the recent GOP debate in South Carolina, however, Fox News reporter Wendell Goler tried. He asked the mayor: “You have said that you personally hate abortion but support a woman’s right to choose. Governor Huckabee say’s that’s like saying, ‘I hate slavery, but people can go ahead and practice it.’ Tell me why he’s wrong.” In response to this, Giuliani said, “Well, there is no circumstances under which I could possibly imagine anyone choosing slavery or supporting slavery. There are people, millions and millions of Americans, who are as of good conscience as we are, who make a different choice about abortion.”

The problem with Giuliani’s answer is obvious. There was once a time in America when millions of people found the choice of slavery not only imaginable, but entirely acceptable. There was also a time in America when few people would have openly said that it is a woman’s right to kill her unborn child. In recent years, however, positions have reversed. Everyone now agrees that slavery is morally abhorrent, but there is plenty of disagreement over abortion. Clearly we should not judge what is right and wrong by shifting public opinion.

Giuliani missed Huckabee’s point. If slavery is morally wrong, then it is always wrong no matter what public opinion polls say. Moral principle demands that we oppose slavery. Likewise, if abortion is wrong, moral principle requires that we oppose it. As Abraham Lincoln said, people do not “have a right to do wrong.” Gov. Huckabee was right; it makes little sense to say you hate slavery but then leave it up to personal opinion.

At the end of the day, Rudy Giuliani’s argument is that, while many voters in the Republican primaries will likely disagree with his views on abortion, they should look past these views and see how conservative he is in other areas. Republicans need to face an important question: Are there issues that are so central, so morally important, that one cannot in good conscience look past them? If Giuliani did believe that slavery should be left up to personal opinion and that the government had no right poking its nose in this area, would this moral lapse be significant enough to call into question his whole candidacy? And if he does believe that thousands of human lives are being systematically destroyed by the abortion industry, but yet is unwilling to stop it, can that sort of moral equivocation be overlooked?

The Republican platform has, for the last 20 years, been clear about the fact that abortion is a violation of human dignity that should not be deemed acceptable in a free society. This strong stance in defense of human dignity has inclined a great many men and women to vote Republican, even when they might not otherwise. This election season, as primary voters consider a slate of presidential contenders that includes candidates who are either openly opposed to the GOP platform on this issue, or are inconsistent in their support for life, it is time to face the question: How devoted is the GOP to ending a procedure that even Rudy Giuliani recognizes as morally wrong and hateful? The Republican Party’s level of devotion to the right to life will become obvious this election year.
Ken Connor is chairman of the Center for a Just Society based in Washington D.C., online at www.centerforajustsociety.org.

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  • Ken Connor