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Using a recent flap involving Herman Cain as a jumping-off point, Ross Kaminsky has written a thoughtful piece for the main site on abortion and the Republican Party. Here are a few thoughts of my own.
First, since the GOP has taken a firm position against abortion, nearly all of its nominees would have allowed abortion to remain legal in cases of rape and incest, as well as when necessary to save the life of the mother. That was the position taken by George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and John McCain. That is also the current position of Republican frontrunners Mitt Romney and, as best as we can tell, Herman Cain.
The one Republican nominee who did not favor a rape exception was Ronald Reagan, who did not suffer at the ballot box as a result. As governor of California, Reagan signed into law a bill that was supposed to legalize abortion in the “hard cases.” The result was broadly elective abortion. Reagan did not want to go down that road again. But every Republican nominee from Reagan to McCain was willing to accept rape exceptions if it was the only way to get pro-life legislation passed. Many hard-line pro-lifers who have lost the nomination, such as Alan Keyes, have said they would be willing to make the same political compromise.
Most organizations working to advance legal protection for unborn children recognize opposition to abortion with those three exceptions as pro-life. It is a pro-life position that has commanded majority support in some national polls, including among women.
Second, what makes abortion morally wrong? If abortion is morally wrong because, as Cain says, human life begins at conception and abortion takes an innocent human life, then that would seem to not just be a matter of moral preference but a legitimate object of public concern. If abortion is the taking of innocent human life, then it is a proper matter for government to either prohibit or regulate by requiring certain reasons to justify the taking of such lives, as the government does with your life or my life.
Third, the above position can be reconciled with libertarianism, properly understood. Minarchist libertarians believe government should prohibit force (including the forcible taking of human life), fraud, and theft. Libertarianism is about what one believes about the state. Whether a libertarian should be pro-life depends upon what one believes about the fetus, or at least how to balance fetal rights against the bodily integrity of the pregnant woman.
Finally, when a pro-life Republican loses an election it is often asserted that they lost because they were pro-life. When a pro-life Republican wins an election, there abortion position is often ignored. Polls have shown that single-issue abortion voters tend to be pro-life, sometimes by as much as a 2-1 margin, and that the pro-life position is frequently a net vote-getter even for losing Republican candidates. This has been especially true in presidential elections since at least 1988.
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