Never in history have there been as many aggressive, prominent GOP presidential candidates fighting to ban abortion. The majority of the Republican presidential candidates support outlawing abortion even in cases of rape or incest, a stance previous candidates such as George H. W. Bush and Mitt Romney opposed. However, the willingness of current candidates to abolish the freedom for women to control their bodies goes a step further as fifteen of the GOP candidates believe that life and pregnancy start at fertilization rather than at implantation, with the latter view backed by all major medical groups and governmental agencies, such as the United States Department of Health and Human Services. These candidates are influenced by anti-abortion groups that radically oppose any form of contraception activated after conception, including the morning-after pill and IUD. This rush to the right regarding women’s reproductive rights is further intensified by the Republican-led congressional initiative to defund Planned Parenthood even at the potential cost of a government shutdown mirroring that of 2013. The Republican candidates are running the risk not only of causing such a shutdown but also of following Romney’s fatal political mistake in alienating the women voters Republicans will need to pull in swing states.
This year marks the first time in over eight years that the pro-choice position is the most supported abortion stance held by the American public. In contrast to this shift in belief by the American people, the anti-abortion Republican presidential candidates not only fail to reflect the beliefs of most Americans but also those of their own party members. A Gallup survey found that 59 percent of anti-abortion Republicans believe that women should have the right to abort under extreme cases, such as incest or rape. This begets the question: why are the majority of Republican presidential candidates racing to the right in fighting against a woman’s right to abortion in even the most of extreme cases? Reporter Shikha Dalmia has proposed that the candidates are not only trying to outdo each other, but also trying to win a culture war among the conservative Republicans who have given up hope after the legalization of gay marriage. This argument is substantiated by the number of candidates who have, suspiciously, just recently adopted these ultra-conservative views on abortion as they approach primaries in conservative states such as Iowa and South Carolina.
Even if these candidates are truly adopting these positions on abortion for a moral high ground to draw a greater number of disillusioned conservative voters, they do this at the expense of alienating many women, their male spouses and significant others. One would think the Republican Party would fear a Mitt Romney “repeat.” In 2012, Governor Romney’s campaign was irreparably tarnished by its alienation of women, who composed 53 percent of the vote that year. President Obama won the women vote in every swing state, beating Romney with female voters 53 to 46 percent in Florida. Clearly there is a trend of Republican nominees being bullied by the ultra-conservative faction of the party and forced too far right in spite of their own initial beliefs. For example, Senator Marco Rubio who has supported measures that included abortion exceptions for victims of rape or incest now claims that he never supported those measures, in an eagerness to seem more conservative on these issues than his legislative career reflects.
The only GOP candidates who are moderate on the issue and have tackled it with some level of reason and success are George Pataki and Donald Trump. Pataki considers himself pro-choice, opposing late-term and government-funded abortions but otherwise voting against restrictions on abortion.However, the only voice of moderation is also dead-last in recent polls. Trump, on the other hand, cannot be trusted to be the Republican candidate women rely on for support for their reproductive rights, as he publicly defames women and does not display consistency and logic in his statements. When asked by a reporter where he stood on abortion, he responded that he is pro-life, only with the caveats of incest, rape or endangered life of the mother. The reporter then pressed him on what he would support if a pregnant woman does not fall under any of those circumstances, and Trump responded that it depends on when in the pregnancy the woman wants an abortion. If we are relying on Trump (who has already switched stances twice)to be the voice of reason for women within the GOP presidential candidates, we are not in a good place.
History shows us that Republican presidential candidates often take this anti-abortion stance for political reasons; this stance will cripple, not aid, candidates’ campaigns by cutting into the primary winner’s share of women’s votes in the general election. These candidates are also losing many male voters who would be hugely affected should their significant others no longer have access to Planned Parenthood or commonplace methods of contraception such as IUDs and the morning after pill. The way that the pro-life position has taken ahold of the American conscious this election cycle boils down to an issue of morality, where moral absolutism conflicts with more complex and pragmatic views of the nation’s electorate.
DPU’s Burke & Paine is a biweekly column that runs on alternate Wednesdays. Each column will feature a different writer and will cover a different topic related to political engagement. Trinity sophomore Callie Fry wrote this week’s column.
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