This article was originally published by Emily's List.
With the 2012 presidential election cycle kicking into gear, GOP hopefuls are already bickering about who deserves the mantle of “Most Anti-Choice.” Truly throwing down the radical gauntlet, Rick Santorum said earlier this month that, when it comes to abortion access, there should be no exceptions for survivors of rape or incest, and that “any doctor that performs an abortion should be criminally charged for doing so.” This breathtaking declaration by Santorum, a former senator and mainstream Republican candidate for the nation’s highest office, stands out among the radical statements on choice already offered up by so-called “moderate” GOP candidates in this mad dash to the right.
Leading the charge for determining The Most Anti-Choice of All is Susan B. Anthony List, whose stated mission still includes “elect[ing] pro-life women” [italics mine] – when its “winning candidates” list features Cong. Joe Pitts, Sen. Dan Coats, and Cong. Steve Chabot, along with many other, well, non-women. How does SBA decide which women, er, candidates deserves its anti-choice seal of approval? A pledge that included:
- “Select pro-life appointees for relevant Cabinet and Executive Branch positions”
- “Advance pro-life legislation to permanently end all taxpayer funding of abortion in all domestic and international spending programs, and defund Planned Parenthood and all other contractors and recipients of federal funds with affiliates that perform or fund abortions”
- “Advance and sign into law a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act”
Before getting back to the GOP hopefuls, let’s take a moment to unpack exactly what this pledge is saying. Selecting anti-choice appointees? Terrible and dangerous, but unsurprising. Ending taxpayer funding for abortion? Guys, done and done! Please meet the Hyde Amendment. Defunding Planned Parenthood? Now here’s where it starts getting particularly insidious. Yes, Planned Parenthood does have clinics that provide access to abortion, which – I guess we now have to shout this from the rooftops at any given opportunity – is a legal, constitutionally-protected right for all American women. All together now? Abortion is legal in this country. Certainly SBA and the anti-choice movement have done everything they can to make it a right more in name than in practice, but so help me, it is legal right.
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With that reminder, let’s also remember that Planned Parenthood provides contraceptives to many who otherwise wouldn’t have access, and – hold on to your hats here – but contraception is a remarkable way of preventing unplanned pregnancies. Snark aside, there is simply no way to be serious about wanting to reduce abortion rates without supporting increased contraception usage. And defunding Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics means pretty ugly results, as we’re already seeing in Indiana and Minnesota: low-income patients are turned away for STI treatments, cancer screenings, and contraception. On which planet precisely is that scenario a “pro-life culture”?
So, back to the candidates faced with this extreme, anti-woman, overreaching pledge. Cong. Michele Bachmann, Cong. Ron Paul, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Governor Tim Pawlenty, and former Senator Rick Santorum all signed Susan B. Anthony List’s pledge. Former Governor Mitt Romney, however, would not sign, citing the requirement for “cutting off federal funds to hospitals” and not wanting “to be hobbled by the pledge’s requirement that nominees for the Cabinet and other key positions oppose abortion.” Romney went to pains to reassure that he shares the “goals of the Susan B. Anthony List,” that the pledge was “well-meaning,” and that he’s “firmly pro-life.” Newly declared GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman copped out of signing the pledge by saying he “doesn’t sign pledges” but emphasized that he is a “life-long, no flip flops pro-lifer, [and] has actually signed anti-abortion legislation into law.”
Subsequent GOP infighting and overwrought statements from Susan B. Anthony List may get the coverage, but the real story is that, though disagreeing with some of the finer points of the pledge, Mitt Romney will come off looking the moderate here, while remaining “firmly” anti-choice and aligning himself with the extreme values of SBA. That being vehemently anti-choice is now a de facto requirement in the GOP primary is testament to how far to the right the Republican party has swung. Remember how the government was almost shut down earlier this year over Title X funding for Planned Parenthood and other clinics? President Nixon signed Title X into law, and President George H.W. Bush supported Planned Parenthood – until it became politically untenable later in his career. And that’s what this is about: women’s health and rights are simply politically inconvenient for nearly the entire GOP, so much that one must flaunt his or her anti-choice bona fides or else face electoral doom.
So yes, when Rick Santorum speaks of criminalizing doctors for performing abortions and denying access to rape and incest survivors, Romney will, by default, seem the more moderate candidate. But don’t think for one second that any Republican president would not pursue with maximum vigor the war on women started in the GOP-controlled House and state legislatures. We must be absolutely vigilant when it comes to each and every one of these candidates, as the stakes could not be higher.