Aspiring politicians who want to effectively convey an anti-abortion message need to figure out a way to do it without offending the untold numbers of women who have been victims of rape.
Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock is the latest in a string of candidates to incite wrath with a statement that seemed to place the rights and dignity of a fetus over the traumatized woman.
Mourdock stands by his assertion that if a rape victim gets pregnant, it’s “something God intended.” He certainly didn’t intend to sound so callous; he was, as he later said when explaining why he wouldn’t apologize, “speaking from my heart.”
Politicians who want to present themselves as “pro-life” should know abortion is the most volatile, contentious topic they will likely face, and that the motives of those pressing for a definitive plank aren’t necessarily pure.
Those on the far right who would make abortion the only issue that counts will be looking for an uncompromising view in return for their support, while those on the far left may be trying to trap a candidate into sparking public outrage or making himself look foolish.
But neither of these groups are the majority, and don’t represent the conflicted and often heart-wrenching attitudes most Americans share on abortion.
A candidate should strive to provide thoughtful, nuanced answers that reassure anti-abortion advocates of his empathy for their position, while still making himself palatable to those who feel abortion should be available at least under certain circumstances.
Creating the impression that a pregnancy from rape – and by association, the rape itself - was “God’s will” is unwise both politically and morally.
The same can be said for the blunders made by other candidates who have recently struggled for a clear response to a complex question. Among the worst offenders were U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin, who claimed the female body can “shut that whole thing down” in cases of “legitimate rape”; and former presidential candidate Ron Paul, who recommended that the victim of an “honest rape” go straight to the emergency room, where she should get a shot of estrogen.
Those who strive valiantly to defend the dignity of the unborn should try to remember that while most Americans are anti-abortion in principal, the vast majority judge pregnancy resulting from rape or incest by a different standard.
The ultimate eradication of abortion, while a noble goal, is almost as unrealistic as the dream of eliminating spousal and child abuse, rape, incest, drunken debauchery and other social ills that sometimes lead to unwanted or crisis pregnancies.
Politicians and others who are truly pro-life acknowledge small triumphs in the ongoing battle are better than no victory at all. When they can help even one woman bring a crisis pregnancy to term through counseling, pre- and post-natal care and, yes, financial assistance for her and her baby, they’ve met with success.
But candidates can’t take up official arms in the battle unless they’re elected – and in some states, at least, they can’t win office if they seem to care more for a fetus than the woman who carries it in her womb.