Pro-Lifers Should Be Wary of Empty Pro-Life Rhetoric

Pro-life Democrat Michael Wear is right to be concerned about the 2020 Democratic candidates’ radical positions on abortion. But Wear’s suggestions for those candidates are long on political expediency and short on actual pro-life conviction. Pro-life voters shouldn’t let themselves be taken in by the deceptive “messaging” he recommends.

Fifty million.

That’s the number of innocent American babies aborted—starved, poisoned, or dismembered, perhaps even sold for parts—since the infamous Roe decision in 1973. That is ten times as many deaths as were lost in the Holocaust. America has suffered 2.8 million war casualties since its founding, a number that includes every war America has fought to date. For every one American lost to war since 1775, nearly eighteen babies have been aborted since the procedure was legalized in America in 1973.

I cite these mind-boggling statistics up front to put in perspective the calculating tone of the recent New York Times op-ed from Michael Wear, provocatively titled “Democrats Shouldn’t Be So Certain About Abortion.”

Wear cautions the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates against using outlandish pro-abortion rhetoric that puts them out of step with the majority of American voters. Wear attempts to establish his authority by reminding the reader that he “served in President Barack Obama’s White House and on both of his victorious presidential campaigns.” Wear highlights his success in “leading religious outreach for [Obama’s] re-election campaign in particular, where [he] helped him overcome attacks that he was ‘pro-abortion.’” Mr. Wear currently serves as Chief Strategist for the AND Campaign and is a self-styled pro-life Democrat.

I read Wear’s column with great interest, in part because I wanted to be convinced that the label “pro-life Democrat” is not a political oxymoron. I wanted to know what a Democratic leading light, who has been given a platform by many evangelical organizations of late, might propose to his party as a way to persuade more pro-life voters to pull the lever for Democrats.

Wear’s Advice to Democratic Presidential Candidates

I was a bit amazed, then, but not altogether surprised, to read Wear’s summary advice on abortion to the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, advice he recommends as “basically Mr. Obama’s approach”:

Support and defend Roe v. Wade, but express moral reservations about abortion itself; offer openness to additional restrictions on abortion, including a ban on late-term abortions with limited exceptions; and call for a set of policies with the purpose of reducing the abortion rate in America, such as paid family leave, workplace protections for parents and pregnant women, increased access to birth control and a strengthened social safety net.

There it is: Wear’s recommendation for the Democratic candidates to be less extreme on abortion. Let’s take this advice one verb at a time.

(1) First, Wear tells Democratic candidates to “support and defend Roe v. Wade.” This is curious advice coming from someone who calls himself pro-life. Roe v. Wade has enabled the legal killing of over 50 million human beings since 1973, yet Wear calls on politicians to support and defend it. Shouldn’t anyone who claims the pro-life label reject the outrageous legal reasoning in Roe and its moral consequences? How is counseling politicians to support and defend Roe, the legal bedrock on which America’s abortion regime is built, anything but a pro-abortion stance?

(2) Second, candidates should “express moral reservations about abortion itself.” How is it consistent to say that it is wrong to kill unborn human beings but that it ought to be legal to do so? This sounds more like political calculation than pro-life principle. And that is the problem. The Democratic political calculation takes precedence over the life of the unborn in Wear’s argument.

(3) Third, Wear writes that candidates should “offer openness to additional restrictions on abortion, including late-term abortions with limited exceptions.” It is curious to me why Wear does not recommend that candidates demand baseline, humane abortion restrictions, such as a ban on late-term abortions when a baby is viable outside the womb. Wouldn’t a pro-life stance call for at least this much?

Elsewhere, in an article for Politico Magazine, Wear describes exactly what such “openness to additional restrictions” really looks like:

In [President Obama’s] entire time in office, the White House did not propose one restriction on abortion, even though the president stated he was “completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions” in the final presidential debate in 2008 and he repeated his openness to restrictions on abortion throughout the 2008 campaign.

This language of “openness” is nothing more than mealy-mouthed political posturing.

(4) Fourth, Wear suggests the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates should “call for a set of policies with the purpose of reducing the abortion rate in America.” Here we are getting a little less morally ambivalent about abortion. Let’s reduce abortions. Amen!

But let’s look closely at the difference between the third and fourth pieces of advice. While Wear recommends Democrats merely “express openness” for laws that would make it illegal to rip a nine-month-old baby limb by limb from its mother’s womb, moments before birth—or starve him or her to death moments after birth—he says they should actively call for laws that might incentivize women not to choose such acts. This emphasis is exactly backward in any true pro-life reckoning.

The Truth about Obama’s Record on Abortion

Wear contends that the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, with their late-term-abortion-supporting, infanticide-coddling, Hyde-Amendment-abolishing policies, are not only out of step with Democratic voters, but also out of step with the former Democratic administration and President Obama. But is this true? Let’s recall President Obama’s record on abortion, the record Wear was responsible for selling to religious voters.

An honest reflection on Obama’s record on abortion conflicts with Wear’s claim—echoing Obama himself—that President Obama was not “pro-abortion.” Here is what Princeton Professor Robert George wrote in Public Discourse about Obama as a presidential candidate: “Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States.” I would encourage anyone to read Professor George’s article, especially in light of the knowledge that this is exactly the kind of “attack” Wear was in charge of “overcoming” for Obama in his religious outreach efforts.

As an Illinois state senator, Obama opposed a law that would have protected babies born alive after a botched abortion. This is the definition of infanticide. Obama also stated in his first presidential campaign that he opposed the Hyde Amendment, which prevents taxpayer money from funding abortion—something he attempted to work around through the Affordable Care Act, though the Supreme Court thwarted these attempts on multiple occasions. During his re-election campaign, Obama’s position on late-term abortions was intentionally ambivalent.

Furthermore, it is hard to forget Obama’s infamous defeat at the Supreme Court, where his administration lost its case against Hobby Lobby. In this high-profile court battle, the Obama administration attempted to coerce private companies to provide abortifacients to their employees. Even after the Obama administration lost its case at the Supreme Court, it still infamously and inexplicably attempted to coerce religious organizations such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and Wheaton College to do the same, efforts the Supreme Court also disallowed in subsequent rulings. By invoking Obama’s approach on abortion and abortifacient “birth control,” is Wear suggesting that candidates take up these totalitarian, coercive fights again?

On the international stage, throughout his two terms, President Obama leveraged the US State Department at unprecedented levels to lobby for the availability of abortion in countries receiving US aid. This began with his early reversal of the Mexico City Policy. Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made it part of the mission of the US State Department to ensure that “all governments will make access to reproductive health care and family-planning services a basic right.”

When you are promoting abortion, you are pro-abortion. No spin can fix that.

Obama’s record on judicial appointees is, likewise, radically pro-abortion. The vast majority of Obama’s 329 federal judiciary appointments are ideologically committed to abortion on demand, and his two successful Supreme Court appointments, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan, have been consistent votes against pro-life gains at the nation’s highest court.

The Democratic Party Platform

But even apart from Obama’s record, it was Obama’s Democratic Party that wrote the current Democratic Party platform, which functions as a unifying and even definitional document for Democratic candidates. Specifically, the Democratic Party platform calls for unqualified opposition to laws and judges that would restrict abortion, as well as for repealing the Hyde and Helms Amendments:

We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment. . . .

We will appoint judges who defend the constitutional principles of liberty and equality for all, and will protect a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion. . . .

We will support sexual and reproductive health and rights around the globe. In addition to expanding the availability of affordable family planning information and contraceptive supplies, we believe that safe abortion must be part of comprehensive maternal and women’s health care and included as part of America’s global health programming. Therefore, we support the repeal of harmful restrictions that obstruct women’s access to health care information and services, including the “global gag rule” and the Helms Amendment that bars American assistance to provide safe, legal abortion throughout the developing world.

Throughout his article, Wear laments the radical positions currently staked out by the Democratic presidential candidates on everything from the Hyde Amendment to unqualified support for late-term abortion. So why does he give the radical Democratic Party platform a pass?

Public Perception over Pro-Life Principles

I share Wear’s concern about the 2020 Democratic candidates’ radical positions on abortion. But Wear’s suggestions are long on political expediency and short on actual pro-life conviction.

Wear’s underlying concern seems to be about perception—specifically, whether or not the Democratic candidates will be perceived to be in step with the majority of American voters on the issue of abortion. He helpfully cites several statistics that highlight the pro-life shift that is currently happening in the electorate. Juxtaposed against the current Democratic reputation on abortion, the disparity is certainly noteworthy. But instead of going after the Democrats’ abysmal record on abortion, Mr. Wear complains that the GOP has weaponized that record. Mr. Wear writes,

We know that Mr. Trump is going to use [abortion] to insulate himself from attacks on his character and morals by casting Democrats’ approach to abortion as “evil”—just as he did in 2016. We saw a preview of this approach in this year’s State of the Union address, when he said that lawmakers “cheered with delight” at the passage of New York’s Reproductive Health Act, which he claimed would “allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth.” He characterized the governor of Virginia as willing to “execute a baby after birth.” This approach, particularly if Democrats are unable or unwilling to respond clearly and directly, can be politically effective.

The problem Wear identifies is not the actions of Democrats, but President Trump “casting” and “characterizing” these actions as evil. What does Wear suggest Democrats should do to avoid such attacks? In a word, messaging: “The Democratic nominee must have a clear, compelling message that will help persuadable voters see that he or she does not in fact support infanticide.”

Talk about a low bar. Instead of supporting legislation that would make infanticide clearly illegal—the kind of legislation that the Democratic-controlled House has blocked 75 times and counting—Wear recommends more nuanced messaging. One can see the campaign slogan now: “I have moral reservations about the killing of living and breathing infants, and am theoretically open to laws that might restrict such things. Vote for me in 2020!” The fact that Democrats need to state their opposition to infanticide, of all things, exposes the deep, deep problems that Democrats face on abortion—problems that begin with their unmoved commitment to Roe.

One of the most troubling aspects of Mr. Wear’s article is where he castigates recent pro-life legislative gains in the states as “Republican extremism.” If outlawing the killing of babies is extreme, I don’t want to be anodyne. And I think pro-life voters, regardless of Democratic strategy and outreach, don’t want to be either.

If your messaging to pro-life voters begins with “support Roe” and ends with “heartbeat bills are extreme,” then I don’t think you understand pro-life voters. And I hope that pro-life voters won’t be taken in by the deceptive “messaging” Wear recommends.

Keep up with the conversation! Subscribe to Public Discourse today.

Subscribe to Public Discourse!