Re: Jeffrey Lord's An Open Letter to Michael Smerconish and Jennifer Stockman:
Toward the end of Jeffrey Lord's open letter, addressed to Michael Smerconish and to me (February 24, 2010), he poses the central question of his marathon missive: "At some point, one has to ask, when is enough enough?" My sentiments, precisely. And I'm not just talking about Lord's rambling assertion that my position as a pro-choice Republican is somehow anti-choice. What I and other reasonably-minded Republicans have had enough of is the party's extremes exercising disproportionate influence on policy and political decision-making.
Mr. Lord is right on one point: the abortion debate has been costly and divisive for our party and for our country. But he points his finger in the wrong direction.
Moderates like myself and others in the Republican Majority for Choice organization support a Big Tent GOP, which focuses on common sense solutions -- not division. We have members who are personally anti-abortion but support the ideal that families and individuals should make choices best for them, whether that be adoption, parenthood or abortion. Furthermore, we support proven and effective ways to reduce the number of abortions through access to prevention methods, family planning and education instead of laws that would criminalize women who seek abortions.
Mr. Lord's intellectual calisthenics make no contribution towards solving biology's basic dilemma: women will become pregnant, often unintentionally, and they sometimes will do so when it is virtually impossible for them to successfully raise children, with or without a partner. On top of that, pregnancy itself can be fraught with danger to a woman's health and well-being. At those moments, women need to consult with their doctors, their families and their own consciences -- not a political party looking to round up votes in the next election.
Facts are stubborn things. Studies show that abortion rates in countries in which the procedure is illegal are similar to those in which it is legal. The starkest divergence between places where abortion is legal and illegal is the safety of the procedure and the number of woman who may die. The consequence of Roe is that American lives have been saved and preserved. Legal abortions are safe abortions -- even if we personally aren't happy that they occur.
But this assumes that Mr. Lord spends time thinking about the health and well-being of American women. He seems more interested in the intellectual back and forth about what constitutes a conservative, so let's return to that line of argument.
I was raised on the idea that less government frees the individual to live a productive, entrepreneurial, responsible life. Uncle Sam should stay out of your bank account, your bedroom and your doctor's office. Giving states the option to ban abortion, as Mr. Lord argues, would be the antithesis of this Republican ideal. Legislatures and governors would have the power to dictate the very dynamics of the American family: its size, its economic prospects, even its physical condition (depending on the mother's ability to carry and bear a child, and the child's own health once it's delivered).
Is this the conservative position in 2010 America?
Mr. Lord asserts that I support a judicial philosophy that is "expressly designed to circumvent the real choices the America people wish to make," which, by extension, makes me anti-choice. He attempts to back up that nonsense with a misguided dissertation on the court's history with slavery. He conveniently ignores more salient decisions, such as Brown v. Board of Education, which declared separate public schools for black and white children to be unconstitutional (I'm assuming he agreed with that bit of judicial activism). Brown upended state laws that denied black children access to equal educational experiences. Similarly, Roe prevents states from legislating away the rights of women. Access to quality family planning -- which shapes the entire lives of adults and children -- should not be dictated by where you live or how much money you have.
Unlike Mr. Smerconish, I have not left the Republican Party. As a voter and activist I still believe in the Party's philosophy of limited government. My views are completely consistent with that philosophy. Where I differ with the fundamentalists' right is their failure to acknowledge the views that I and so many other Republicans hold, and to work with us toward common goals.
The GOP's recent surge is an exciting development for those of us who believe in a vibrant two-party system. However, this momentum will grind to a screeching halt if Party leaders pursue litmus tests for candidates, with abortion being at the top of the list. GOP victories came from the middle, where the American people happen to be. Groups like the Republican Majority for Choice remain central to those victories because we signal to voters that the right to personal freedom remains one the most important GOP ideals, and one which we will not easily give up to a vocal minority.
Mr. Lord, Mr. Lincoln would be proud.
-- Jennifer Stockman
Former chair, Republican Majority Coalition for Choice
Jeffrey Lord replies:
Thanks to Jennifer Stockman for responding.
First, whether she realizes it or not -- and the "not" seems operative here -- while Ms. Stockman cites the GOP's "extremes" she is quick to call her side in this almost-40-year-old mess "reasonably-minded Republicans." She seems honestly unaware that to many she and the Republican Majority Coalition for Choice have repeatedly and deliberately book-ended themselves as the other extreme in this equation, making them appear as the "Non-Republican Minority Coalition for No Choice." There is nothing "moderate" or reasonable about denying choice on abortion policy to the American people.
Typical of this mindset is Ms. Stockman's line that implies I have not spent time "thinking about the health and well being of American women." Sigh. The obvious counterpoint of the pro-life activist (which, I should say, I am decidedly not) is to wonder whether Ms. Stockman spends any time thinking about the health and well-being of the millions of babies whose lives have been snuffed out because of Roe. Both lines are, well, out of line. Yet typical of the raw emotion that Roe brings to the surface, typical of its tendency to push good, rational people to extremes, one of which Ms. Stockman occupies. And for the record, I harbor no such unkind thoughts about Jennifer Stockman who, I believe, is the mother of, I'm sure, two wonderful daughters and doubtless loves babies.
A few points:
• The Big Tent argument. Sounds wonderful, infers broadmindedness. Really? In 2004 pro-life Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum had done the Big Tent thing and provided crucial support for pro-choice then-Republican Senator Arlen Specter in a tight primary fight with the conservative Pat Toomey. Specter won, and promptly thanked Santorum. In 2006 Ms. Stockman went out of her way to oppose Santorum, running ads against him and editorializing against him in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In effect, Ms. Stockman vividly demonstrated the real idea behind the Big Tent. Which is to say, the Big Tent is for me but not for thee. She in fact believes religiously in a litmus test on abortion for candidates, and vigorously demanded a litmus test for Santorum. She talks the talk but refuses to walk the walk.
• It startles to see that Jennifer Stockman says I "conveniently" ignored Brown v. Board of Education in my list of Supreme Court decisions that, as with Roe, deliberately violated the Constitution. I confess I simply believed that Ms. Stockman understood Brown and no explanation was needed. Obviously not so. Far from being an example of judicial activism, Brown was precisely the judicial antidote to the judicial activism that was Plessy v. Ferguson, which, in the style of Dred Scott and Roe, conjured a right for states to segregate, a direct violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Judge Robert Bork, famously pro-life and very much the originalist, called Brown a "great and correct decision," which it was. Not because it was morally correct -- which it also was. But because it righted the constitutional wrong that was Plessy, specifically violating the plain intent of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plessy, like Roe, was judicial activism. Brown is its opposite.
• To airily dismiss the idea that "legislatures and governors" -- i.e., the people's chosen representatives directly elected by those same people -- should set abortion policy, while defending, Roger Taney-style, the right of judges to write in their own personal abortion policy prescriptions that deny choice to Americans, is morally wrong but more to the point constitutionally wrong. To update the essence of the quote from dissenting Justice Curtis in Dred Scott, one woman's common sense is another woman's nonsense. Which is why we have a Constitution and the rule of law. The law is not about Jennifer Stockman or Sarah Palin. It's about -- the law. Which both Jennifer Stockman and Sarah Palin -- and all the rest of us -- have the opportunity to write.
• The "conservative position" in 2010 America should be to let the American people chose the abortion policy they wish to have.
With the greatest of respect I think Jennifer Stockman should take a leadership role in resolving this issue for good while upholding her point of view. Let me suggest the following language for a proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution.
The right of a woman in the United States to have an abortion is unlimited.
Two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states, and the abortion issue is resolved in a simple, quite plain Constitutional fashion, with the American people getting to chose the abortion consensus they prefer by supporting or not supporting it. Surely she could get the support of President Obama and Speaker Pelosi and, I bet, even the pro-life Harry Reid, not to mention pro-choice Republicans who are, she insists, the Republican Majority.
No fuss, no muss. No government in the bedroom. No judges in the womb. True to the Constitution. Choice for all Americans, not just judges. Women free at last, as embedded specifically in the Constitution itself, to "consult with their doctors, their families and their own consciences -- not a political party looking to round up votes in the next election." And most attractive, surely, it would be the end of those irritating pro-lifers for good.
The problem? Ms. Stockman told Sean Hannity she opposed abortion at the very last stage of a pregnancy. Which makes her…drum roll please…not just an opponent of a Constitutional amendment legalizing abortion, but one of those irritating pro-lifers after all.
Over to you Jennifer.
Thanks for writing.
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