Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Are Pro-Lifers Really Pro-Life?

Teresa Lewis’ execution in Virginia sparked discussion about a range of interesting issues. One was whether pro-lifers like Governor Bob McDonnell in fact believe that fetuses deserve the same right to life that fully developed humans do. The reasoning goes like this: McDonnell refused to grant Lewis clemency for the crime of contract murder. In an abortion, the woman is contracting with a doctor to kill the fetus. Since very few if any pro-lifers recommend sentencing a mother to death for having an abortion, they cannot really believe that a fetus has the same intrinsic right to life that you or I do, can they?

It’s possible to supply another explanation. In order to make abortion illegal, pro-lifers will have to succeed in politics. They will either have to elect enough legislators at the state and national level to pass a constitutional amendment, or elect a President who will appoint conservative judges and a Senate that will confirm them. In either of these scenarios, pro-lifers need to cobble together an electoral majority on behalf of their cause.

That cause will need moderate female voters to rally around it. Moderate female voters are often queasy about abortion, but I doubt they would support putting women in jail for having them, much less giving them the death penalty. Opponents would have a field day painting pro-life candidates as heartless extremists. It’s hard to imagine the GOP ever doing well with female voters while there was a party plank to make women having abortions eligible for capital punishment.

To be sure, if one thinks that a fetus has the same intrinsic worth as a developed human, then abortion really is a murder. Many pro-lifers probably actually believe this, but feel that not punishing women who have abortions is a compromise they have to make to retain political viability. The greatest good in this situation would be to end legalized abortion; any compromises that ultimately serve this goal are therefore justifiable. In other words, many pro-lifers might very well make abortion equivalent to the crime of murder if they could. Politically, they cannot.

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