courting the GOP pro-life vote

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Mar 01, 2006

The South Dakota legislature passed a bill virtually banning abortion, and a couple of leading Republicans had interesting reactions.

President Bush, who has received tremendous support from the pro-life movement, criticized the bill, saying that he would want exceptions to allow abortion in the cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who usually falls into the "pro-choice" camp, announced that if he were the governor of South Dakota, he would sign the law.

Romney's statement costs him nothing. He is not the governor of South Dakota. He's in Massachusetts, where the legislature (mostly composed of nominal Catholics, but that's another story) is more likely to ban apple pie than abortion. So he can afford to make a theoretical statement which just coincidentally happens to make him look more palatable to the powerful pro-life wing of the Republican party, as he seeks its presidential nomination.

Bush's statement also costs him nothing. Constitutionally barred from a third presidential term, he doesn't need to line up pro-life support any more; he can say what he thinks.

Still it's curious that a "pro-choice" candidate comes out more forcefully than a "pro-life" incumbent. Yet another indication that the American pro-life movement has been, and still is, much better at getting candidates elected than at collecting on the political IOUs.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Mar. 02, 2006 12:07 AM ET USA

    Anyone who doubts that Phil has a valid point should consult Dale Vree's editorial in the March issue of 'New Oxford Review'(also available on-line at It's a crackerjack.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 01, 2006 2:51 PM ET USA

    We have two conflicting clues to our good president’s beliefs. 1st, his words re Schiavo: “where there are serious questions and substantial doubts ..[we].. should have a presumption in favor of life." That aligns with the broader1974 Vatican “None Dare Risk Murder”, applicable to rape & incest. 2nd, not in fullness of truth, he rationalizes the 3 emotional ones as necessary or else USSC moves are jeopardized. We need remind him to always “Respect God’s Rights” no matter how the embryo started.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 01, 2006 2:09 PM ET USA

    There is no justifiable reason to directly attack the fetus. That said, the MOST problematic issue involved with the "life exception" is its vagueness. It is too open to fuzzy-interpretation. In about 2 seconds you'll find doctors willing to abort if the mother is emotionally distressed/upset about being pregnant, stating "this is a threat to her mental health.. After all - she could kill herself. I don't want THAT on my conscience!" Give 'em an inch and there goes a mile.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 01, 2006 1:16 PM ET USA

    Why are children of rape and incest less human than those who are not? There should be no exception for rape and incest. I also challenge anyone to find a medical doctor to state with a straight face that abortion is ever indicated to save a woman's life. It never is. One never has to commit an overt murderous act on the fetus to save a woman's life. No "life" exception is needed.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 01, 2006 12:46 PM ET USA

    If a politician who supported the smallest restriction of abortions (say parental notification) was running against Kerry/Kennedy/Clinton/Biden, I would support him to the max. Perfect? No. I always suspect the bashing of Bush and Republicans on this issue is caused by Catholic Democrats looking for some excuse to vote their heart as Democrats.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 01, 2006 11:27 AM ET USA

    Phil, Bush has been very consistent in his position on abortion. Go back and take a look at his debates. He has always supported the rape/incest/health exemptions. That, at least, makes him more pro-life than most well known Catholic politicians. BTW: It appears that Romney didn’t actually say he’d sign the South Dakota bill, his spokeswoman, Julie Teer, said it. So who you gonna trust on this issue? I say Bush is the authentic pro-lifer and Romney is just another pretender.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 01, 2006 11:19 AM ET USA

    Mitt Romney, in another story today, has expressed new openness to consideration of exemption for Catholic Charities on gay adoption. Has Mr. Romney suddenly found religion? Or, has he a new political strategist? I'll take it either way, but prefer the former. It will be interesting to see who will receive Bush's endorsement, and the speculations as to why.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 01, 2006 11:11 AM ET USA

    Leo - don't hold your breath thinking these two new "conservative" justices will do anything to overturn Roe vs. Wade. My distinct impression is that they are judges first and Catholics second. Mr. Bush has given us his opinion, an opinion which makes clear his opposition to abortion is NOT principled. He does not consider abortion to be murder since he allows an innocent child to be killed just because one or both of its parents were guilty of rape or incest.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 01, 2006 10:57 AM ET USA

    I agree, Leo13; I voted for "W" twice based on the Supreme Court issue primarily. As the president is not Catholic I can sort of a little bit maybe understand why he cites some exceptions as being acceptable although we Catholics know there are no acceptable exceptions to abortion, ever. "W" will likely appoint one more Associate Justice to the Court and I have confidence the appointee will respect life as Chief Roberts and Justice Alito do. I long for the day Roe is gone forever.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 01, 2006 9:59 AM ET USA

    Wrong! Whatever you think of President George W. Bush, he has succeeded in appointing two conservative supreme court justices who will be around for many years. After the Iraq war, that will be his greatest legacy.