Dual Human Dignity: How Republicans Can Better Articulate the Pro-Life Message


BY NICHOLAS NEAL

After the Obama victory in the 2012 election, commentators and political strategists have been discussing what, if any, changes the GOP will have to make in order to broaden its base and successfully win elections the way it did back in the 1980s. One of the biggest issues that the Republican Party is expected to cave on is abortion. The Democratic Party used the war-on-women rhetoric triumphantly to energize their feminist base to deliver a 2012 victory. This, of course, caused the pro-life faction of the GOP to become the biggest scapegoat for their 2012 loss. This scapegoating is the wrong move, and instead what should happen is the GOP should learn not only how to better articulate the pro-life position but why they should hold the pro-life position in the first place.

Gallup polling indicates that roughly 50 percent of Americans identify as pro-life. [1] In fact, young people have been shown to be more anti-abortion than their parents, despite being less religious and more liberal on other issues. Age, not gender, is the significant factor in determining one's opinion on abortion, meaning that blaming the Republicans' gender gap on abortion is inaccurate. [2] The pro-life movement is very young and very viable. It will survive into the future, and if the GOP abandoned the pro-life cause, it would chip away at the party's base, not strengthen it.

However, the GOP needs to change how they approach abortion. It needs to change the reasoning behind the pro-life position. This is particularly important on the vexing issue of abortion and rape.

The Todd Akin scandal magnified this problem dramatically. The failed Missouri candidate idiotically claimed that women could not get pregnant during rape and thus that most rape pregnancies were due to "illegitimate rape."

This was used by feminists to hammer home the narrative that pro-lifers were ignoramuses (or is it "ignorami"?) who did not care about women. Still, I don't want to imply that Akin's comments were wrong simply because he misspoke or even because it cost the Republican Party a Senate seat. The statement was wrong because it was an act of blaming the victim. It trivialized the violence of rape and therefore showed an inherent disrespect for the victims of such actions. However, this doesn't mean that Republicans should abandon the rights of children conceived in rape.

Republicans can articulate this position better by arguing that both the fetus and the mother in the situation of rape are innocent parties in a complex and horrific situation and that homicide against one of these innocent parties is too rash a solution for it. By emphasizing this message of dual human dignity, the Republicans can push back against the non-sequitur that violence against the mother somehow logically justifies violence against the unborn.

In addition to that, Republicans should concede to feminists that there is patriarchy in society that causes rape in the first place. Assumed female inferiority (a legacy of years of male supremacy), the fusion of masculine identity with violence, and the unfair expectation that women should "avoid getting raped" are cultural norms in our society that create an oppressive and dehumanizing system for women. Just as they should oppose the culture of lethal ageism against the unborn, Republicans should also oppose the culture of violent sexism against women.

However, this advocacy of human dignity should not be cynical. It would be nice if Republicans would implement some policies to back up the fact that we care about both the mother and the child. For instance, denying the rapist's visitation rights to the child would certainly be just, in that the rapist does not have the right to ever see the mother again, and would be a great way to be tough on crime. Also, it promotes the message that rape is not what defines the child, that the child's worth is based on who she is as a person, not how she was conceived.

Photo by Yogendra Joshi; some rights reserved.

Republicans will also have to change their language. They will need to stop framing abortion as a cultural-values issue, but instead frame it as a human rights issue. This framing of it will make some headway with a more secular and liberal youth population that still has some sympathy for unborn rights.

Finally, a great way the Republican Party can articulate the pro-life cause is to expand it. If the Republican Party were to embrace a consistent life ethic and oppose abortion along with war and the death penalty (which are two pro-death, big government programs anyway), then the pro-life cause would be taken more seriously because it wouldn't seem like it exists in a vacuum. In addition to that, it would give Republicans ground to rip Democrats on their hypocrisy when it comes to legalized homicide. They can say "You Democrats claim to be the party of peace and tolerance, yet you advocate lethal ageism against children for the crime of existing inconveniently. We Republicans embrace a consistent life ethic. We oppose both killing the unborn and people in different countries as well as people on death row." Right now the Republicans can make only half that claim, and Democrats can respond by saying that the GOP is inconsistent too: Republicans claim to be pro-life but support war and the death penalty. If the Republicans were to respect life in all stages, then the Democratic rebuttal would fall apart and their claim to being in favor of tolerance and peace would be met with the skepticism it deserves. A good model for this would be Republican Senator Rand Paul, who tied together war and abortion as causing a "coarsening of culture towards violent death." [3]

Defending unborn rights is an important issue and it frustrated pro-lifers, including myself, to see Republicans either defend them inadequately or wimp out and not defend them at all. While the rest of social conservatism is dying, the pro-life cause is still the cause that can win. However, the Republican Party will need to rearticulate it as the human rights issue and peace issue that it always should have been.

REFERENCES

[1] Lydia Saad, “ ‘Pro-choice’ Americans at Record-Low 41%,” May 23, 2012, <http://www.gallup.com/poll/154838/pro-choice-americans-record-low.aspx>

[2] Lydia Saad, “Americans Still Split along ‘Pro-choice,’ ‘Pro-life’ Lines: Majorities Believe Abortion is Morally Wrong, Legal Access to It Should be Restricted,” May 23, 2011,

<http://www.gallup.com/poll/147734/americans-split-along-pro-choice-pro-life-lines.aspx>

[3] Napp Nazworth, “Rand Paul Talks Faith, War, Abortion at Values Voter Summit,” September 15, 2012,

<http://www.christianpost.com/news/rand-paul-talks-faith-war-abortion-at-values-voter-summit-81655/>

#volume2issue2 #abortion

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