Big Conservatism, or the Big Con, having long ago fused with the GOP, embodies its vision in the Republican Party platform. One of the planks of the latter is the Big Con’s “pro-life” position on abortion.
Now, the most fundamental reason for opposing abortion is that it consists in the killing of an innocent, defenseless human being, a yet-to-be-born child. This being so, the circumstances in which a child in the womb is conceived are about as morally relevant to the fate of that child as are the circumstances surrounding the conception of the reader of this essay morally relevant to determining his fate.
The circumstances of a human being’s entrance into this world have utterly zero relevance to whether he should live or die.
Yet the merchants of the Big Con, for all of their rhetorical hosannas (particularly during election season) to the sanctity of human life, have a decidedly different track record.
Take the Big Con’s Patron Saint, Ronald Reagan. The 40th POTUS continues to be tirelessly depicted as pro-life. Yet Reagan opposed abortion except for when he didn’t oppose it. In other words, he claimed to oppose abortion in all instances except those of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is endangered.
Unsurprisingly, this tends to be the Big Con’s default position on abortion. That it is at once a cop-out and inconsistent should be obvious to anyone who slows down the three seconds necessary to see it for what it is. It is the logical and moral equivalent of the view that the death penalty is wrong—except for when it is administered to murderers, rapists, and child sex predators, etc.
Obviously, anyone who holds this view is not opposed to the death penalty. Since the whole point of capital punishment is to reserve its use only for those who are convicted of the most egregious of offenses, anyone who favors its use in these “exceptional” cases is a proponent, not an opponent, of it.
Similarly, the whole point of opposing abortion is to protect innocent human life. Thus, those who claim to be protectors of the most innocent and defenseless among us while simultaneously relinquishing that protection due to circumstances—like the violence in which conception occurred—that don’t in any way undercut that innocence and defenselessness undermine the principle reason for opposing abortion in the first place.
This, though, was Reagan’s position.
Nor should this surprise anyone when it is considered that as governor of California—several years before Roe v. Wade, mind you—Reagan legalized abortion via the “Therapeutic Abortion Act.” Courtesy of the Gipper’s move, approximately one million babies were killed in their mothers’ wombs.
Reagan would later blame this ghastly phenomenon on…doctors, physicians who he insisted misinterpreted the law that he signed. Yet even before the legalized slaughtering got under way and after he had signed the bill into law, Reagan remarked that had he been more experienced in the art of governing, he would not have signed it.
Lou Cannon, a Reagan biographer, said that Reagan did in fact come to regret his decision. It’s not clear, though, exactly what it is about this decision that Reagan regretted, for Cannon quickly added that Reagan “knew that the [previous] California law [on abortion] was overly restrictive” and “was particularly bothered that it made no exception for rape or incest” (emphases added).
Furthermore, for the eight years of his Presidency, Reagan proposed not a single piece of pro-life legislation.
George W. Bush, another two-term “conservative” Republican president who was widely hailed as a champion of the unborn, was no more pro-life than Reagan. It’s true that he signed a ban on so-called “partial-birth abortion,” as well as signing the Born Alive Infants Protection Act and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, none of these actions made an iota’s worth of difference when it came to preventing a single scheduled abortion.
But matters were even worse than this.
For starters, Bush continually insisted throughout his presidency that he does not have a “litmus” test for nominating judges. In other words—follow the logic here—although he ostensibly viewed abortion, the killing of a defenseless child in the womb, as a great evil, Bush refused to hold it against judicial prospects if they disagreed with him on this score.
Although he supposedly regarded the act of destroying innocent human beings as unjust, Bush had no moral or other objections to endowing judges with the authority and power to rule in favor of those who would destroy these human beings.
If you can’t see that this position is as intellectually incoherent as it is morally contradictory, then there’s nothing more that can be said to you.
Second, Bush refused to lend support to South Dakota’s ban on abortion in all instances except for when the mother’s life was endangered by her pregnancy. As he told ABCnews at the time: “Well…my position has always been three exceptions: rape, incest and the life of the mother.”
The South Dakota ban, in short, was too “restrictive” for Bush’s taste.
Now, while this view of Bush’s is fatally problematic for the reasons already disclosed, it’s likely deceptive by design. To put it another way, that Bush—like Big Cons generally—is driven primarily by political considerations, not moral conviction, is all but obvious given that South Dakota legislators did wind up adding his exceptions to their legislation.
The President, though, still refused to come out in support of their ban.
Jack Kerwick [send him mail] received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture.
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