This last week I had the privilege of joining a blogger’s conference call with Ramesh Ponnoru, a smart guy who writes over at The Corner and has written The Party of Death. The call was hosted by the Family Research Council’s very own Joe Carter, who came up with the idea of connecting Washington insiders with (ostensibly) normal outsiders such as me. The call was not only tons of fun, but informative and engaging as well. Thanks to Ramesh, FRC and Joe for their kindness and work in making it happen.

Ponnoru began with a quick survey of the issues surrounding abortion, etc. in the last century or so. He identified 1972 with the Mcgovern nomination as a key moment in the debate about abortion (this is all in his book). It changed the dynamics of both parties, as socially conservative, working class Democrats started to leave for the Republican party. As a result, the Democratic party shrank while the Republicans grew. Democrats with national ambitions began to switch their positions on the issue of abortion in order to appeal to their socially liberal base, as there were fewer social conservatives in the party.

It’s become more clear that this strategy has been a loser for the Democrats. They’ve lost more people than they gained. This was manifest in this year’s elections as pro-lifers only lost about 20 seats in the house while Republicans lost 31. This happened because many Democrats are starting to see that being pro-abortion has been bad politically for them.

Then Ponnoru began prognosticating. In the next few years, Democrats will probably try to get federal funding for organizations that provide abortions overseas, abortion on military bases. Of course, they’ll do this with Hilary Clinton’s strategy, which is to claim you want “common ground” while voting a straight pro-choice ticket. He thinks this a hopeful moment to be a pro-lifer, we just have to stay a few steps ahead

Then the questions began. I didn’t catch everyone’s names, or their questions. When a blogger (Patrick?) asked Ponnoru where he thought things would go in the future, Ponnoru replied, “Immortality is going to go well. That’s the snake oil that the party of death is going to sell people.” It’s a fitting analogy.

Ponnoru sees internal debate among Democrats on how to handle stem cell issues, patenting human embryoes, etc. In 2008, Democrats won’t lead with the ethical issues becuase of the conservative Democrats in their midst, but they probably won’t be able to keep the liberal wing of the party bottled up. In the last election, there wasn’t a lot for the values voters to vote on–there wasn’t a whole lot of gloom, so they voted on other issues. But that might not obtain in 2008, especially if Democrats try to push through their issues. The next two years may help conservatives rally the base.

Interestingly, Ponnoru also made a strong appeal to social conservatives to demand pro-life representation in the White House in 08. His basic point was that we have made significant ground the last few years, so we shouldn’t give it up by putting someone who is not staunchly pro-life in office.

His final point was also provocative (and one unknown to me). In arguing that conservatives need to have a reform agenda that meets the needs that middle class Americans feel, he pointed out that the tax burden on single and childless people hasn’t changed the last thirty years, but it has increased significantly on families with children. Even though conservatives are pro-life in position, we haven’t integrated that philosophy with our position on taxes. It is a part of the pro-life cause to push for tax reform that massively expands child tax credits, thus making it easier to raise children.

This summary is, of course, tendentious. I can only type so fast. You can compare with Jimmy Akin’s two great posts on the call. It’s good food for thought for social conservatives who care about these issues–there is no “silver bullet” strategy for pro-life issues, as the taxes issue demonstrates. There is only diligence, awareness, and activity on the part of justice for all. Whether we have that or not is an open question, I fear.

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • “His final point was also provocative (and one unknown to me). In arguing that conservatives need to have a reform agenda that meets the needs that middle class Americans feel, he pointed out that the tax burden on single and childless people hasn’t changed the last thirty years, but it has increased significantly on families with children. Even though conservatives are pro-life in position, we haven’t integrated that philosophy with our position on taxes. It is a part of the pro-life cause to push for tax reform that massively expands child tax credits, thus making it easier to raise children.”

    This point should be made even more strongly: there absolutely must be a better social and financial support network for low-income parents, especially single mothers, in this country. Tax breaks don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the issue. Raising a child is difficult and expensive even for those who would most stand to benefit from a substantial tax break; for those closer to or below the poverty line, everything that goes into raising a child simply needs to be made less expensive and with access to greater structural support.

    From thestraightdope.com: “Self-induced and back-alley abortions were becoming a thing of the past long before Roe: sex researcher Alfred Kinsey estimated in the 1950s that around 85 percent of illegal abortions were performed by physicians, even if the physicians weren’t all in good standing. The fact is that prior to legalization abortion had become relatively safe and easy to obtain – for those who could afford it. Studies done at the time show that the risks were borne disproportionately by those who couldn’t, mostly minorities. Were abortion to be recriminalized, that would likely be the case again.”

    I would go so far as to say that any pro-lifer who doesn’t have serious concerns about the impact of criminalizing abortion on the lower-income sector of this country isn’t looking carefully enough at all the relevant aspects of the issue.

    There’s another, much longer point to be made here about how criminalizing abortions probably won’t do very much to stop people from having them; it seems intuitive to me that pro-lifers who want to drastically reduce the number of abortions performed in this country ought to be focusing their efforts in two directions. First, reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. That means birth control and comprehensive sex education, NOT abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula; I could write volumes about the well-demonstrated woeful inefficacy of the latter. That isn’t going to go over well with the far right of conservative Christianity, but the best way to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancy is a combined focus on delayed sex debut (all the good reasons to wait) and comprehensive contraception education (all the best ways to protect oneself and prevent pregnancy if one chooses not to wait). The second effort should be to conduct open, non-polemicized, thoughtful debates about whether or not the abortion of a fetus is the same thing as the killing of a human being, and it should not be conducted under the assumption that the answer is an obvious yes; by ABC News’s numbers, at least 57% of the population has at least some reservations about that conclusion.

    And as a coda, I’ll point out that pro-life activists could vastly increase their credibility with their opponents if they campaigned just as strenuously against the death penalty.

  • Peregrine Ward

    Hi Naomi,
    Arguing against recriminalizing abortion on the grounds that it would lead poor people to undergo unsafe abortive procedures seems to me to assume that abortion isn’t really as bad as pro-lifers make it out to be. Consider: if an activity (x) is so heinous that it ought never to be countenanced, then it is ludicrous to argue that x should not be illegal on the grounds that the poor would be led to x unsafely. If x is that bad, it doesn’t matter how it is done; it is bad, and simply must not be done. Now, pro-lifers argue that abortion is that bad. So concerns about the affordability of safe abortions are moot in dialogue with such folks.

    But is abortion that bad? That’s the question you raise when you suggest that dialogue must be conducted about the ontological status of the fetus (human or ain’t). I think a good “one size fits all” argument regarding this problem is to assume ignorance about whether or not it’s actually human, and then argue that in light of such ignorance, how dare we abort (we might be murdering a human)? Normally I wouldn’t say that ignorance is illuminating, but it seems to work here.

    But what the debate really needs is a strong dose of metaphysics. Is there a human nature or isn’t there? Is human nature to be defined as the possessing of certain powers, or as the potential to have such powers, or is human nature something deeper than a set of functions?
    If there is a human nature and fetuses have it, then they deserve the protection of the law, as all humans do. If there isn’t a human nature, is there a non-arbitrary way to determine which things are to be protected by our laws and which aren’t?

    As a coda, I should point out that abortion and capital punishment aren’t really two peas in a pod, or better, aren’t really two arrows in the same quiver, or two bullets in the same gun, or two doses in the same syringe, or what have you. Innocent members of the human community deserve protection. If human fetuses are members of the human community, they are as innocent as any. Guilty members of the human community deserve penalization; penalization is a soft word: criminals deserve to have their free will deeply infringed upon; they deserve violence. There are then very important questions about what sort of violence a certain sort of crime merits, and whether there is any sort of crime that merits capital punishment. But the issues (abortion and cap. pun.) are quite distinct; and pro-lifers would not do well to jump on the anti-cap pun bandwagon just to win supporters.

    It’s good to hear your thoughts, Naomi, as always. Hope all is well.

  • MatthewLee

    Naomi,

    Peregrine raised many of the concerns and objections I had when reading your post (only he articulated them far more ably than I would ever). Your twofold strategy is, I think, a helpful suggestion for pro-life advocates. I would suggest, however, that the point of abstinence education is not simply to prevent abortions, but to rehabilitate young people’s views of sexuality. I am far more convinced that if done effectively (and what hasn’t been shown is that ANY sex education has worked effectively), abstinence education can not simply stop abortions, but help young people lead more fulfilling, flourishing lives by teaching them the appropriate context and expression for sexuality. Maybe it’s just me, but “stopping abortions” is too narrow of a goal–the pro-life movement should be about promoting flourishing, not preventing death.

    Cheers!

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