Pro-life Democrats are getting some national attention this week, courtesy of a party leader.
The Washington Post has a commentary by Adam Blake about a declaration this week by the Democratic National Committee chairman, Thomas Perez. The occasion for Mr. Perez’s outburst was concern over a Democratic candidate in Nebraska.
Perez: “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”
Abortion on demand, without apology, and at your expense – but wait! There’s more. The occasion for Mr. Perez’s ire, according to the Post, was the fact that the Nebraska candidate “supported a bill requiring doctors to tell women where they can receive ultrasounds before obtaining an abortion.” Continue reading “Resistance to prenatal ultrasounds is “non-negotiable”?”
This comes to mind as I overhear a news channel’s talking head asking a pollster about the people who reject both the GOP and Democratic presumptive nominees – “what if they all stay home in November?”
Stupid question, Mr. Talking Head. A better one: What will those people do down-ballot?
#NeverHillary, #NeverTrump. I am a firm believer in the value of defensive elections – voting for mediocre Candidate A in order to block the election of awful Candidate B, if necessary – but that’s not the situation this year. Instead, to my aging pro-life eyes, there are two titanically, epically unsuitable people slugging it out for supremacy.
What’s left is damage control. And that’s why staying home in November is not an option.
What builds the political firewall against a president who wants to protect the abortion industry, or one who is indifferent to the right to life? A Senate that will say no to pro-abortion judicial nominees; a House that takes the power of the purse seriously; elected officials at state and local levels who promote policies that respect the right to life as something inherent in every human being and who allow life-affirming ministries to flourish.
One presidential candidate is very free with the epithet “loser.” I’m not looking forward to the policies that will come from an executive branch led by such a man. Medically vulnerable people, people with disabilities, the preborn, the dying, the condemned, the refugees: where would they find an advocate in a White House occupied by someone who’s quick to label “losers”?
And then there’s the other major candidate, who thinks abortion is health care and who has no problem with compulsory public funding of abortion providers. She’s a fan of Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, and she’s been unwilling to defend the rights of dissenting women like the Little Sisters of the Poor. In her world, no human being has any right to live until someone else grants that right. No one has ever asked her to explain the difference between human rights and humanly-granted rights. Come to think of it, let her opponent ponder that one.
In my lower moments, I’ve thought that these two candidates ought to run on a single ticket, perhaps with the slogan “what difference at this point does it make?”
Neither of these presumptive nominees has earned my vote. It’s for precisely that reason that I refuse to be a bystander next November. The down-ballot races – all those contests below the “President” line – will affect the extent of the damage a President can wreak.
I’m mindful that apart from any defensive effect, the down-ballot races are important in themselves. I’ve spent enough time at the State House to know that.
I’ve already had some lively offline exchanges with people of good will whose views of the presidential race differ from mine. I’ll say this much to everyone who asks me “but what about the Supreme Court?!”: (a) while I know one candidate is sure to pack the Court with abortion advocates, I have no confidence that the other candidate won’t; and (b) the U.S. Senate can be a firewall, unless it decides to be a rubber stamp. So by the way, this year’s Senate race bears close attention.
To all those who are as repelled as I by the presumptive presidential nominees of the major parties, I say be of good cheer. Vote in November. Skip the top line, and then vote with gusto in all the other races, having done your homework about your choices.
But don’t stay home. Discouragement is for losers, if you’ll pardon the expression.
There is a pro-life candidate on the 2016 Democratic presidential primary ballot: Henry Hewes. I spoke with him by phone a few days ago to learn more about his campaign.
A day before the New Hampshire primary, two major Democratic candidates are campaigning hard against each other. On one point, they’re united: absolute support for unregulated abortion. Hewes does not buy it, and he’s willing to bring a pro-life message not only to voters in New Hampshire but to other states holding primaries.
The goal: “educating people to what is going on”
“The primary goal of my campaign is to raise a bunch of money to do pro-life education. My family is not preparing for a move to Washington, D.C. [I want to] raise money to run pro-life ads that are not really designed or focused around getting people to vote for Henry Hewes, but around pro-life education, educating people to what’s going on and focusing their attention on the prolife issue.”
A New Yorker by birth and residence, Hewes was a registered Republican until 2007 when his concerns over the Iraq War and drone warfare led him to leave the GOP. He was active for years with the Right to Life party in New York state. He has put his name forward in other races, including the mayoral race in New York City in 1989, a challenge to U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1994, and the Democratic presidential primary in 2008.
He’s on the ballot in several states besides New Hampshire, focusing on states where media coverage abounds or where strong pro-life communities exist. “I’m not seeking to get a majority of the delegates,” he told me, “so I don’t have to worry about being included in every state.
“All across the country, I think the pro-life movement has largely failed to educate the average American as to what’s going on. When I turn to people and I say ‘you realize 3500 babies will be murdered today’, it never occurred to people that’s actually going on. The average American doesn’t keep track of this. If I describe to people a partial-birth abortion, the great majority of people literally do not believe me.”
How does that play in a place like New Hampshire, where life-issue legislation has faced uphill battles no matter which party has been in the majority?
“I continue to believe that if you put me in a room with Hillary Clinton and twenty average people from New Hampshire, and Hillary Clinton described honestly her position on abortion, and explained that she believes people have an absolute right to kill their babies, that this includes partial-birth abortion however grisly that is, includes third-term abortion, includes abortions because you don’t like the sex of your baby, includes abortions to avoid having retarded children in the world, and that 58 million people killed since 1973 is a small price to pay for the rights of women to control their bodies, and I then explain my side, I think the majority of the people in New Hampshire would say ‘well, I don’t really agree a hundred percent with either Henry or Hillary, but I’m sure as hell a lot closer to Henry.’”
Pro-life politics: pro-lifers “haven’t won because they haven’t done the job.”
Asked about the political impact of the pro-life movement, Hewes is blunt. “Most of the people in the pro-life movement not only [are] not politically savvy. They’re not business-savvy. They really do not come from a world to get things done and to move people around. They’re a hundred percent right morally and scientifically, and the great majority of Americans do not believe in abortion on demand. So [pro-life activists] start with a tremendous advantage. Because of that, they haven’t lost. But they haven’t won because they haven’t done the job.” The job, says Hewes, is education about the nature of abortion.
He advocates the adoption of a personhood resolution in Congress. There was once a movement for a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution; why not return to that? “I’m fighting for a resolution because I believe that the [Constitutional] amendment cannot pass right now. However, if the people in the House who said they were pro-life would vote pro-life, they could pass a resolution today saying ‘it is the opinion of the House that life begins at conception and that for purposes of law all federal statutes should be interpreted to mean life begins at conception and legal personhood begins at conception.’
Hewes notes that a Republican majority in the U.S. House recently passed a budget that includes funding for Planned Parenthood. “The Republicans said ‘let’s put up a bill that defunds Planned Parenthood.’ They all voted for it. Then, they put up another bill that said ‘fund the whole government including Planned Parenthood.’ And they voted for that. They sat down in Paul Ryan’s office and said ‘so, shall we agree to kill the babies or shall we not?’ And the decision they came to was ‘kill ‘em.’ And they’re all being endorsed now [by some pro-life groups].”
On abortion as a women’s issue
What does Hewes say to the claim that any attack on abortion is an attack on women? “I think it’s a completely bogus argument. It’s ridiculous. I laugh at it. I absolutely respect the right of women to control their own body, but there are two rights to be dealt with here – the right of the baby and the right of the woman. You have to make a [case] about whether the right to life is more important as a social, constitutional, moral right than the right to control your body.
“In America, nobody says requiring a 24-hour waiting period before women can be sterilized is an attack on women. I haven’t heard anybody say that because more women commit suicide than men, laws against suicide are an attack on women.”
No basis to consider abortion “health care”; “I think that’s one of the things we should be educating people about”
Is a restriction on abortion a restriction on health care?”I don’t think there’s any basis for abortion being considered a medical procedure. I think that’s one of the things we should be fighting about and educating people about.
“There’s no definition of ‘medical procedure’ that I know of that includes abortion in a rational sense. A medical procedure has to be tied to some kind of health result. And abortion is not done to protect the health of the mother. The purpose of abortion is to murder the child. That is on the very edge of what anyone could quantify as a medical procedure.”
On the indictment of David Daleiden: “he ought to be suing Planned Parenthood”
Hewes is well aware of the recent Texas indictments against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress, whose undercover videos revealed Planned Parenthood’s dealing in fetal body parts. “[Daleiden] did a great job, and he’s being prosecuted on a bogus charge. I’m not worried that David is going to jail, because it’s a completely trumped-up charge. Probably they won’t even try him in the long run.
“I told him he ought to be suing Planned Parenthood for defamation of character. When people sue you, start chasing you legally, chase them back. Harris County, Texas, is not the only jurisdiction that could bring an indictment against Planned Parenthood.”
On the death penalty: “practically, it’s not a good idea”
Hewes says about capital punishment, “I’ve never been in favor of the death penalty, because from a practical point of view, it’s not a very useful thing. No one has ever proved that having the death penalty reduces murders. lt certainly doesn’t save you money. We don’t really know if the people we’re executing are guilty.
“Most importantly, I oppose the State taking life as punishment for any reason. What distinguishes me from Hillary Clinton is Hillary Clinton is morally opposed to the death penalty except when it comes to traitors and terrorists, for whom there’s a different class or species, apparently. I don’t believe that the State should take human life as a form of punishment. I think it’s morally wrong, which I have agreement from a long and wide group of religious leaders. I’m opposed to the death penalty a hundred percent.”
Justice is not a matter of retribution, he says. “I’m really also opposed to the use of prison for punishment at all. If you have somebody who’s a danger to the community, and is going to go out and rob and murder people unless you confine him, if you can rehabilitate him, that’s fine. But the idea of putting somebody in prison for a hundred years because you’re mad at him and want to teach him a lesson, I don’t really accept that.
“But for retribution, what I tell people is the ancient concept of justice was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I tell people that’s not justice. God says you have a scale, and you hurt me, and that weighs down your side of the scale. But the way to balance the scale is for me to forgive you. Take the weight off the scale. And then we’re even again. That’s how God treats us. That’s how we should treat others. That’s what I really believe in as justice. There’s a lot of evidence that forgiveness as a way of creating justice, in fact does work.”
“We don’t do any favors to people by not talking about the reality of abortion”
Hewes acknowledges problems that will remain even with a strong effort at education about abortion.”We have a general problem because people like to be in the fight against abortion that satisfies their moral need simply to be in the fight. Everybody wants to be invited to the party when Paul Ryan is there. Everybody wants to be able to say they’re a buddy of the Cardinal. It’s not so important that abortion doesn’t stop,” as with the recent budget vote in Congress.
Another problem comes on a deeply personal level, when a loved one has had an abortion. “[Maybe a] daughter had an abortion and everybody in the family knows about it, and she’s troubled by it. It creates some degree of difficulty when you all of a sudden start saying that abortion is murder, because you’re saying to your daughter ‘you committed murder.’
“Now, I’m a very forgiving person. The fact that you murdered your child doesn’t mean I’m not going to speak to you, doesn’t mean I’m not going to love you, when in fact coming to a realization that you made a mistake is essential to spiritual healing. If the woman who has had an abortion doesn’t understand why what she did was wrong, she’s not really going to be able to be healed in a spiritual sense.
“We don’t do any favors to people by not talking about the reality of abortion.”
On what success looks like: “all my years are successful because God’s will prevails”
To wrap up our conversation, I asked Hewes what he would consider a successful outcome to this election year.
“All my years are successful because I live in a world where God’s will prevails. Sometimes, you have the best-laid plans, surprises come along the way, you have to be open to different things. Whatever happens this year is essential to whatever progress we will make in the next year.”
For more information: electhenryhewes2016.com; see also the campaign’s Facebook page
What a party has to say about the right to life is relevant to anyone who takes civic responsibility seriously. Here is what the two major American parties have to say on the subject, in their most recently-issued platforms (2012). This is not to be confused with what an individual candidate might say, which might be enough to make me ask “so why are you running with THAT party?”
First, the Democrats. The full platform is at this link. [Note: link is broken as of April 2015. Current Democratic web site is democrats.org.] While the platform addresses many rights at length, the right to life is not mentioned. “Right to choose” gets the ink.
Protecting A Woman’s Right to Choose. The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way. We also recognize that health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. We strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s decision to have a child by providing affordable health care and ensuring the availability of and access to programs that help women during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, including caring adoption programs.
The Republican party takes a different approach (full platform here).
The Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life
Faithful to the “self-evident” truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations which perform or advocate it and will not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life. We oppose the non-consensual withholding or withdrawal of care or treatment, including food and water, from people with disabilities, including newborns, as well as the elderly and infirm, just as we oppose active and passive euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Republican leadership has led the effort to prohibit the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion and permitted States to extend health care coverage to children before birth. We urge Congress to strengthen the Born Alive Infant Protection Act by enacting appropriate civil and criminal penalties on healthcare providers who fail to provide treatment and care to an infant who survives an abortion, including early induction delivery where the death of the infant is intended. We call for legislation to ban sex-selective abortions – gender discrimination in its most lethal form – and to protect from abortion unborn children who are capable of feeling pain; and we applaud U.S. House Republicans for leading the effort to protect the lives of pain-capable unborn children in the District of Columbia. We call for a ban on the use of body parts from aborted fetuses for research. We support and applaud adult stem cell research to develop lifesaving therapies, and we oppose the killing of embryos for their stem cells. We oppose federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
We also salute the many States that have passed laws for informed consent, mandatory waiting periods prior to an abortion, and health-protective clinic regulation. We seek to protect young girls from exploitation through a parental consent requirement; and we affirm our moral obligation to assist, rather than penalize, women challenged by an unplanned pregnancy. We salute those who provide them with counseling and adoption alternatives and empower them to choose life, and we take comfort in the tremendous increase in adoptions that has followed Republican legislative initiatives.
Each state’s GOP has its own platform. New Hampshire’s, for example, has this to say about the right to life:
Support the unborn child’s fundamental right to life and implement all possible legal protections; encourage individuals and organizations who provide alternatives to abortion by meeting the needs of mothers through adoption, support, counseling and educational services; require parental consent for minors seeking abortions, ban the use of public resources to fund or promote abortion, appoint judges who respect traditional families values and the sanctity of innocent life, and support similar efforts at the federal level; oppose euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.
In recent years, Democratic candidates have been remarkably consistent in their support for abortion, while Republicans can be all over the place. A Republican voter can be forgiven for assuming a Republican candidate is pro-life (after all, the platform’s pretty clear), but verifying that with the candidate is always a good idea.
After spending two days amid Republicans and conservative independents at Red State Gathering in 2013 in New Orleans, I can report on my reality check. Either everyone there was so pro-life that it didn’t bear mentioning, or else everyone there was so taken with urgent matters like Obamacare and IRS overreach that the right to life is out at the edge of the political radar screen. Take that for what it’s worth. This was not a life-themed event, and one reason I came was to hear what candidates said when they weren’t prompted to make a generic me-too pro-life statement.
Halfway through Day 2 at Red State, Texas Governor Rick Perry got his half-hour at the mic. He only took about 15 minutes for his statement, leaving the rest for Q&A. He crammed a lot into those fifteen minutes: a pitch for businesses to come to Texas, a review of the state’s economic growth on his watch, a verbal shot at “an Administration that’s aimless abroad and arrogant at home,” and – oh, happy day – a defense of the right to life. Calling the unborn “our most vulnerable citizens,” he said “We protect life in the state of Texas.” He’s proud of the new law restricting post-20-week abortions and requiring higher safety standards for abortion facilities.
About time, I thought. Once Friday’s opening prayer was out of the way, neither abortion-minded women nor their children made it into the speeches until Governor Perry got up to the podium.
A few candidates from around the country who spoke after Gov. Perry also mentioned the right to life. Watch these names as you browse the news during election season next year: Art Halvorson, candidate for Congress from Pennsylvania; Rob Maness, candidate for Senate from Louisiana (now there’s a red-meat conservative); Greg Brannon, candidate for Senate from North Carolina. They’re all Republicans. Red State means to keep Republicans honest. That’s apparently enough of a job without trying to convert Democrats on the life issues or anything else.
What got the most attention from speakers and attendees alike? The problems with Obamacare, which certainly have pro-life implications … the IRS scandal, not a phony one whatever Jay Carney may be telling me, that leaves me wondering how little I have to do to attract inappropriate attention from a taxing authority … government spending and the next debt ceiling vote … immigration and border security.
All those matters are urgent, to be sure. I worry, though, about how many important matters will be crowded out of political debate because they lack that urgency. Roe has been with us for forty years. Abortion is more or less legal in all 50 states, and every regulation that passes, no matter how minor, brings forth screams from abortion advocates. Even Gosnell’s horrors have already faded from the front pages, replaced by profiles of the woman in pink sneakers who put her abortion advocacy right out there when she tried to filibuster to death Texas’s 20-week bill. Where legal and unrestricted abortion is part of the fabric of the contemporary Democratic party, the issue of abortion is more like white noise within today’s Republican party. Those who want to ignore it, do so.
Imagine pro-life Republicans being attacked, and maybe losing office, because of their stands on the “urgent” stuff. This will be in primaries, mind you. It’s going to happen in 2014 and 2016 without strong pushback from pro-life voters of all political persuasions.
So does being pro-life go without saying among Republicans? No. Do independents care? This one sure does.