Watch the conscience clause: GOP ready for pro-choice era?

fetus_gopWhile I hesitate to jump-start the no-way-to-win debate about abortion opinion polls, I owe it to people on both sides of that stat fight to pass along a Newsweek article by Karen Fragala entitled “A Fight for the GOP’s ‘Heart and Soul.’ ” It includes this amazing summary:

The GOP’s largest pro-choice advocacy group, the Republican Majority for Choice (RMC), was a chief proponent of the new language in the platform preamble and regards the change as a small step in the right direction. Far from viewing itself as a renegade faction, the RMC touts a recent American Viewpoint poll that found that 73 percent of Republicans claim to be pro-choice. The organization says it is an outspoken minority that has overwhelmed those voices and established the party’s agenda.

This a fascinating statement, but ultimately meaningless — because it does not include the language of the poll question these Republicans were answering. Does “pro-choice” mean that they do not favor overthrowing Roe? Does it mean that they do not want a total ban, but support restrictions after viability? Stripped of this language, the figure is meaningless — except to say that the GOP is not a party united in its defense of the unborn.

So this would mean that 27 percent or so of God’s Own Party is “pro-life,” contrasted with what percentage of the Democrats? You might recall the fairly recent Zogby International poll indicating that 43 percent of Democrats agreed with the statement that abortion “destroys a human life and is manslaughter.” And 78 percent of Hispanics agreed that abortions should be outlawed. These numbers are hard to deal with, but much better than the totally vague Newsweek number.

So 43 percent of Democrats are pro-life, but only 27 percent of Republicans? Whatever. As I wrote a week or so ago, this just shows you the degree to which the great middle of American voters are defined by the questions they are asked, as much or more than the answers they give. Journalists must give us the information to know how to judge these statistics.

Meanwhile, there are interesting developments in the two party platforms. You may recall that the Democrats’ 2000 platform said their party is “a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party.” Then the 2004 platform replaces this conscience clause with a statement that Democrats “stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine” abortion rights.

Now, the Republican Majority for Choice lobby is hailing a change in the 2004 GOP platform preamble, which now calls on Republicans to “accept and respect” each other’s divergent views on social issues. Thus, that Newsweek Q&A with RMC executive director Kellie Rose Ferguson gladly proclaims:

The pro-choice position is certainly the Republican position. Our core beliefs are limited government, personal responsibility and individual freedom. That’s the Republican base. The party has strayed a bit from that, and we’re doing everything we can to bring it back.

Do you envision a shift in the next few years toward a more libertarian stance in the Republican Party regarding social issues?

We certainly hope so. The party leadership is understanding that moderates are a key voting bloc and that to win elections, you need to turn out the moderate base, specifically in key states. We respect the president’s personal views on these issues, but we don’t think his personal views should be turned into policy issues for the country.

So the question is whether the Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudolph Giuliani, Andrew Sullivan party will continue to rise with the tide of mass media and the splintering of mainline and even evangelical Protestantism. This is a political stance that even plays well in prime time on Fox News.

Meanwhile, President Bush did include what some might call a “James Dobson” passage in his acceptance speech. But note the lack of specifics in this text:

Because family and work are sources of stability and dignity, I support welfare reform that strengthens family and requires work. Because a caring society will value its weakest members, we must make a place for the unborn child. Because religious charities provide a safety net of mercy and compassion, our government must never discriminate against them. Because the union of a man and woman deserves an honored place in our society, I support the protection of marriage against activist judges. …

My opponent recently announced that he is the candidate of “conservative values,” which must have come as a surprise to a lot of his supporters. Now, there are some problems with this claim. If you say the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood, I’m afraid you are not the candidate of conservative values. If you voted against the bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act, which President Clinton signed, you are not the candidate of conservative values. If you gave a speech, as my opponent did, calling the Reagan presidency eight years of “moral darkness,” then you may be a lot of things, but the candidate of conservative values is not one of them.

Thus, the leader of the far, far right — to read the “moderates” who favor abortion on demand — is now vague on abortion and somewhat specific on the definition of marriage. Perhaps that is a poll-data thing. Nevertheless, this language was still too much for Sullivan, as a “moderate.”

I CANNOT SUPPORT HIM IN NOVEMBER: I will add one thing more. And that is the personal sadness I feel that this president who praises freedom wishes to take it away from a whole group of Americans who might otherwise support many parts of his agenda. To see the second family tableau with one family member missing because of her sexual orientation pains me to the core. And the president made it clear that discriminating against gay people, keeping them from full civic dignity and equality, is now a core value for him and his party. The opposite is a core value for me. Some things you can trade away. Some things you can compromise on. Some things you can give any politician a pass on. But there are other values — of basic human dignity and equality — that cannot be sacrificed without losing your integrity itself. That’s why, despite my deep admiration for some of what this president has done to defeat terror, and my affection for him as a human being, I cannot support his candidacy. Not only would I be abandoning the small government conservatism I hold dear, and the hope of freedom at home as well as abroad, I would be betraying the people I love. And that I won’t do.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • tonymixan

    Sullivan has compressed all realty into his homosex lens and that is too bad–for him. He has become a one note singer.

  • Achilles

    Well, no. If you read his blog, he ranges over a great number of topics, and several of them, esp. the war, appear to be very dear to his heart. It’s just that his bottom line is the issue of whether or not the Republican Party considers him to be a human being and in recent months it’s been made abundantly clear they do not. In other words, it’s quite the reverse-to the Republicans, all Sullivan can ever be is an abomination, no matter what else he believes in. So he won’t give them his vote. Seems logical to me.

    If one of the planks of a political party was that they wanted to annul your marriage, could any other position of theirs get you to vote for them?

  • Victor Morton

    “all Sullivan can ever be is an abomination”

    Wrong. Catechism 2359 says Sullivan is called to sainthood.

    But that’s actually not the most egregious intellectual crime in that collection of droppings. That privilege belongs to this passage:

    “the issue of whether or not the Republican Party considers him to be a human being and in recent months it’s been made abundantly clear they do not.”

    To call that an oversimplification would be an injustice to “Amurrika … love it or leave it.” To call it a lie would be an injustice to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I have never, in my life, met a Republican (much less the “Republican Party” in the institutional sense the capital letters imply) who says “homosexuals are not human beings” or “Andrew Sullivan is not a human being.”

    Back that statement up, you Anonymous Coward Compensating By Using A Warrior’s Name.

  • Achilles

    “Wrong. Catechism 2359 says Sullivan is called to sainthood.”

    That section seems to be written in ignorance of the fact that not all are called to chastity. We are all called to monogamy-to marriage. The Republicans seem bound and determined to deny that to GLBT people.

    “I have never, in my life, met a Republican (much less the “Republican Party” in the institutional sense the capital letters imply) who says “homosexuals are not human beings” or “Andrew Sullivan is not a human being.”

    They’re moving heaven and earth to deny him the right to get married. What else is that supposed to imply?

    And I repeat: if a political party had in their platform a plank that would if enacted annul your marriage, is there anything else they could do that would make you vote for them? Try to see it from the GLBT community’s POV for a second.

  • Achillles

    “That section seems to be written in ignorance of the fact that not all are called to chastity. We are all called to monogamy-to marriage.”

    Just to clarify-we are called to marriage except for those people that are called to religious chastity. But that’s definitely not all of GLBT people, no more than it is all of straight people.

  • http://sirman.blogspot.com Bubbles

    Anonymous Coward writes: “They’re moving heaven and earth to deny him the right to get married. What else is that supposed to imply?”

    Andrew Sullivan has the same rights I have: the right to marry the person of my choosing as long as they fit the criteria. Sullivan’s argument is not with being denied the right to marry (that’s a knowing but unclever lie told by Sullivan and you), but with the criterion that the chosen person be of the opposite sex. That criterion does not deny his humanity any more than does the criterion that a person must be adequately sighted to acquire a driver’s license.

    I am married. If I wish, should I be granted the legal right to have a third party enter into the marriage? Does a restriction against such deny my humanity? Of course not. Such claims are asinine, and unworthy of intelligent consideration. “Desire” does not equal “Right”, nor does one’s humanity depend upon the application of law, and it is only the most childish, intellectually facile, narcissist who would insist that it does.

  • Achilles

    Marriage-the joining together of two people in lifelong committment-is one of the most basic of all human institutions, one of very few human universals. GLBT people have been kept from it, but they are now reaching out to grasp their God-given right to live in commitment with their partners. God Almighty is aiding them, just as He helped the civil rights movement before them. The fruits of this will be seen in the coming decades, and joyous fruits they will be. I live in Massachusetts and have seen the happiness of GLBT couples that have finally been able to have recognized by the state that which God joined together long ago.

    That’s all I have to say about that.

    And again, to repeat, in regards to Andrew Sullivan being limited or blinkered due to his inability to vote for the Republican party right now: if a political party had in their platform a plank that would if enacted annul your marriage, is there anything else they could do that would make you vote for them?

  • Victor Morton

    Achilles tries:

    “we are called to marriage except for those people that are called to religious chastity”

    Where is that in the Catechism or anywhere else that could be called official Church teaching?

    “if a political party had in their platform a plank that would if enacted annul your marriage”

    Bzzzzzt. You’re already presupposing your own conclusion — namely that there is such a thing as “marriage” between two persons of the same sex. There is certainly no such thing legally (therefore, nothing to “annul”) and the whole argument against homosexual “marriage” IS that there ’tain’t no such thing in nature either. Marriage MEANS opposite-sex, so the GOP doesn’t want to “annul” something any more than laws against polygamy or consanguity “annul” harems or ikncestuous liaisons.

    “They’re moving heaven and earth to deny him the right to get married. What else is that supposed to imply? (than that homosexuals are not human) …”

    (1) “Imply” does not mean “mean.” You haven’t answered my demand — all you’ve proven is that they’ve argued **something else** that YOU think implies that. Sorry.

    (2) What is “implied” should never be argued, on principle, by someone of an opposed political persuasion — for reasons that are hopefully too obvious to need much elaboration. What is going on is “inferring” and by people ill-disposed, even when intellectually-equipped, to “infer” correctly and reasonably what is being “implied.”

    (3) What it is supposed to imply is that marriage is a male-female union and therefore “homosexual marriage” is like “male pregnancy,” “three-sided square” or “brave Frenchman.” That’s the argument: deal with it. It is NOT is the argument YOU inferred that “homosexuals are not human,” an argument that is made nowhere but the fevered imaginations of you and those like you.

    (4) You’re perfectly entitled not to find that argument persuasive, but that does not *therefore* give you the right to infer, based on said unpersuasiveness, that the argument must REALLY be something else. I find it ironic and irksome that those who are most vocal in defense of value pluralism and perspectivism as abstract principles (in US political terms, that’s liberals mostly) are the LEAST serious about living out what it means in intellectual practice.

    “try to see it from the GLBT community’s POV for a second.”

    (1) Why? Why shouldn’t you try to see it from the Christian community’s POV for a second? Why should the POV of the GLBT community be privileged?

    (2) Be careful with your PC-labels and think about whether they apply — even under the standard you’re arguing that homosexuals are being denied marriage rights, bisexual and trans-sexual people can marry now without any problems whatsoever (which makes the notion of a “GLBT community” outside of the college-theory hothouse rather problematic … but that’s another discussion).