I am a pro-choice Republican. We are not an
endangered species. Since the Republican Party declared itself pro-life,
most of us have been in the closet.
I appreciate that both viewpoints are sincerely held:
Pro-choicers believe that the government should not intrude in such a
private decision; pro-lifers believe that life begins at conception. I
have supported each.
Raised Catholic, I accepted the church’s doctrine
that abortion was morally wrong. This was before Roe v. Wade,
so in many states abortion was also illegal. A personal experience
changed my view.
At 28, pregnant with my third child, I discussed
tubal ligation with my OB-GYN. He said I was fortunate. Only because it
would be my third Caesarean section would Texas law permit the
procedure. Otherwise, I was told, a woman had to attain a mathematical
formula of 120, calculated by multiplying her age and number of
children. In other words, a woman who had her children without
C-sections was required to have four children and be 30 years old before
the law permitted a doctor to perform a procedure preventing pregnancy.
“Why?” I inquired. My doctor explained that
legislators, assuming that women “often change their minds,” set an age
of maturity linked to a sufficient number of children. I left his office
thinking that government had no business dictating my childbearing
Since then I have been an active advocate of a
woman’s right to choose. I was a founding board member of Women in the
Senate and House (WISH), an organization created to elect pro-choice
Republican women. In that capacity, and having worked for pro-choice
conservative Barry Goldwater, I have spoken with numerous Republican
senators about abortion. One Southern conservative told me to tell him
if we ever needed a crucial vote. But because his publicly stated view
was pro-life, he cautioned, he could go only so far.
A senator from the Northeast told me he had not
thought about the issue before seeking office in 1980. When he had to
take a position, he followed Ronald Reagan’s lead. A decade later, he
told me, he realized that government had no business telling pregnant
women what to do but, politically, he could not reverse his stand.
I never believed that
Mitt Romney rejected his pro-choice position
because of one meeting with doctors and learning what was done to stem
cells. Rather, I thought he had one meeting with political consultants
who told him he could never get the Republican nomination unless he was
pro-life. Romney made a major mistake declaring that he would
defund Planned Parenthood; he should have said
that, since he is pro-life, he would donate $10,000 to any organization
that helps women plan their pregnancies. His mother promoted “more
liberal abortion rights” in 1970 when she ran
for the Senate in Michigan. But that was before the Republican Party
made pro-life a platform plank.
Today, any Republican who believes, as I do, in
a strong national defense and fiscal conservatism, and that limited
government is consistent with being publicly pro-choice, knows that if
she takes the latter position she will get creamed in the primary. The
choice is to not run or to get in the closet. By discouraging potential
candidates, our tent gets smaller and we end up with a
Richard Mourdock and a
Todd Akin, who confuse rape with sex.
As a political matter, being pro-life has not helped
Republicans. John McCain lost Catholics by nine points. Romney lost the
Catholic vote by two points, even after four years of President Obama’s
strong pro-choice position and Obamacare forcing certain Catholic
entities to cover birth control.
As a results-oriented matter, the pro-life position
cannot prevail. In the 39 years since Roe v. Wade, no pro-life
president has overturned it and, because that ruling is constitutionally
based, no member of Congress can overturn it via legislation. Even
Republican-appointed justices would have a difficult time overturning
Roe after four decades because of the conservative philosophy
of upholding precedent. If Roe were overturned, each state
would decide the issue, and, presumably, local politicians would vote
their constituents’ position. Many states would approve abortion, so
pro-lifers would not attain their goal of outlawing the procedure.
Victoria Toensing is a founding partner of the
Washington law firm diGenova & Toensing. She has extensive experience in all
three branches of government solving problems for individuals, corporations,
trade associations and other organizations. She is an internationally-known
expert on white collar crime, terrorism, national security and intelligence
matters. In 1997, Toensing was named special counsel by the U.S. House of
Representatives to probe the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.