Why a Pro-Life President?

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Apr 08, 2007 3:22 PM

Ideas have consequences, and based on the number of other bloggers who have linked to it, I fear an idea being espoused by David Frum may take root. (Essentially, Frum is arguing that a presidential candidate's position on abortion is less important than the candidate’s position regarding the kinds of judges he or she might appoint.)

But, lest I be accused of misrepresenting him, following is the specific quote I take issue with:

May I suggest to my prolife friends that they are looking up a blind alley when they argue over the real inner views of the candidates with respect to abortion?

The single most important question pro-life Republicans need to ask themselves is this:

What kind of judges and justices would the various candidates nominate, given the likelihood that they will face a Democratic majority Senate? To my mind, this is less a question about abortion than it is a question about congressional relations.

First, Frum's assertion might be true if a pro-Choice candidate pledged to appoint only pro-Life judges, but that is a fantasy. Instead, candidates parry the question by pledging to appoint strict constructionist judges. Pledging to appoint judges who will interpret the Constitution has, in the past, been code for appointing Pro-Life judges. But it is not the same as pledging to appoint only Pro-Life judges. In fact, one could argue that the doctrine of starre decisis – the decision stands – implies that a judge who merely interprets the Constitution would oppose overruling Roe.

(Note: I realize starre decisis is not in the Constitution.  But it is a time-honored judicial tradition that even Judge Alito says he subscribes to.  Additionally, I am not arguing in favor of activist judges, but making the point that appointing strict constructionist judges does not necessarily equal appointing a judge who would overturn Roe).

What is more, if you buy Frum’s argument (that a president’s personal position on abortion is moot, so long as he appoints good judges), you, by extension, end up excusing candidates for other flawed public policy positions (on the basis that their positions are irrelevant, anyway).

For example, Barack Obama’s defenders could argue that he should get a pass on his opposition to Iraq because: “Only Congress can declare war, anyway.”

(I know this would be a ludicrous argument to make, but then, so is the contention that president’s views on abortion are irrelevant, so long as he appoints judges who interpret the Constitution.  In reality, a president cannot declare war -- or overturn Roe.  But it is naive to believe that a president cannot have great influence in both areas as both Commander in Chief, and the moral leader behind the bully pulpit).

More concerning, though, is the failure to aknowledge that having a Pro-Life president is not only important because of the possibility of overturning Roe – but because a president who believes in a culture of life will support other virtuous things, as well.

The Right to Life is a fundamental right, and thus, it is no coincidence that men and women who support the rights of the unborn tend to support protecting the rights of others. Conversely, a president who does not support protecting the rights of the unborn may have a different world view regarding a multitude of issues.

You could argue that honesty on the campaign trail is better than pandering. So why should conservatives insist on a candidate who, at least, claims to be pro-Life? Candidates make lots of promises on the campaign trail. Sadly, they often break these promises. If we can’t count on presidents to honor all the promises they actually make, it is illogical to assume they will honor the promises they don’t make.

But what really bothered me about Frum’s post is that, at a time when there is no presumed heir to the White House, Frum is essentially arguing conservatives should take a pragmatic approach toward elections. This strategy might be sagacious in a “lesser of two evils” General Election environment.  But this electoral “surrender strategy” does not seem appropriate at this stage in a primary campaign.