Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Evaluating Abortion in the 2012 Presidential Election

Michelle Crotwell Kirtley


November 2, 2012

By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley

Below is an excerpt from a longer analysis of human life issues in the 2012 presidential campaign, released as part of the Center for Public Justice 2012 Election Guide. 

The Center for Public Justice Guideline on Human Life is clear: “As a life-ending act, abortion should never be legalized as a freedom right of those responsible for a pregnancy.” But the Guideline goes further, calling the Christian to consider how to best promote the inherent dignity of both mother and child in circumstances where abortion may be considered.  Importantly, the Center’s position is grounded in considerations about the God-ordained role of marriage and family in childbearing and the social consequences of fissures in these critical civil society institutions. Abortion is not primarily an issue of “women’s rights,” as the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama categorize it.  Neither is it an issue of an individual “right to life.” A just public policy on abortion will promote the God-given dignity of the developing child alongside policies that support mothers (and fathers) considering abortion, recognizing that—married or not—she is part of a social fabric that may also be in need of redemption. 

Obama clearly supports abortion “rights.” On his campaign website, under the tab “women’s issues,” Obama declares his commitment to “protecting a woman’s right to choose.” On his website, abortion is entirely considered in the context of women’s health. There is no mention of the unborn child, or even of an attempt to minimize the number of abortions in the vein of President Clinton’s phrase “safe, legal and rare.” Nor is there any direct reference to supporting mothers facing unplanned pregnancies. The focus of the platform is protecting women’s access to birth control and abortion and promoting women’s health within the health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act.  

Alternatively, the “Values: Marriage, Family, Life” section on Governor Mitt Romney’s website says, “Mitt believes that life begins at conception and wishes that the laws of our nation reflected that view. But while the nation remains so divided, he believes that the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade . . . . With Roe overturned, states will be empowered through the democratic process to determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate.” The Romney website lists his support for the Hyde Amendment, a federal legislative provision that prohibits federal funding for abortions, as well as for “the right of health care workers to follow their conscience in their work,” a reference to provisions that prohibit discrimination of medical professionals who refuse to perform or refer for abortion. He also states his intention to challenge China on its “one-child policy” that has resulted in forced abortion and sterilization. 

More recently, Romney has qualified his position on abortion, saying, "There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda."  While undoubtedly an attempt to reassure female independent voters that he is not at “war” with them, there are several abortion-related bills in Congress worthy of his attention and input, including a U.S. ban on sex selective abortion, defeated in the House earlier this year, and legislation designed to prevent minors from being carried across state lines to receive abortions that are currently illegal or require parental notification in their home state.  Romney has also recently clarified that he would reinstate the ban on U.S. funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that promote or provide access to abortion overseas, the so-called Mexico City Policy.

Examining both candidates’ records provides additional detail to the positions described on their campaign websites. President Obama’s administration has prioritized a commitment to abortion over and above religious freedom rights of religious institutions, denying funding to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for their programs to care for women and girls rescued from sex trafficking because of their refusal to refer their clients for abortion, in spite of “a recommendation from career staffers that the bishops be funded based on scores by an independent review board.” 

Romney’s record on abortion is complicated. In Massachusetts, he ran as a pro-choice candidate in 1994, when running to unseat Ted Kennedy in the Senate, and in 2002, during his campaign for governor.  Romney had a self-professed change of heart in 2004, when as governor he vetoed a bill that would have funded human cloning in the state. His direct pledge to support the Hyde Amendment is important to pro-life advocates because under the state-wide health plan he introduced and began to implement in Massachusetts, the state pays for abortion as part of the plan.  

As Gordon College political science professor Tim Sherratt recently addressed, neither candidate has reflected on the appropriate role of government regarding abortion. And neither has given attention to how federal policy might support the struggling institutions of marriage and family. Preventing pregnancy alone does not address the many injustices women face, and my Catholic friends are correct in noting that the advent of widely available contraception has done little to halt the challenges facing marriages and families. Policies supporting single mothers, encouraging adoption and strengthening community support for families will go much farther in decreasing unplanned pregnancies and abortion in the U.S.

Although Romney’s record on abortion is muddled, given the Republican coalition within which he would be governing, if elected, it seems likely that he would better support the justice and dignity due to the unborn through the actions of his administration, through legislation he may sign or through justices he may appoint.  If elected, however, Christians should call Romney to consider the broader social context in which abortion happens and urge him to seek justice here as well.

—Michelle Crotwell Kirtley is the Editor of Capital Commentary and a Trustee of the Center for Public Justice.  She worked for several years as a health and science policy advisor on Capitol Hill.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”