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Compromising Positions By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, March 01, 2000


POLITICIANS SEEM OILY because that is their job. They are the lubricant of society, smoothing compromises between opposed groups. Such slickness often seems immoral, but it helps us live side by side with a minimum of sparks, friction, and conflict. If war is the continuation of politics by other means, as the German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote, war is also often what happens when political compromise fails. Seven score years ago America's compromises over the institution of slavery dissolved, and the issue was decided by a war that killed 620,000 Americans, North and South.

Abortion, many now believe, is a human-rights issue that like slavery cannot ultimately be settled by political compromise, by give and take and split-the-difference deals. The principled on one side say abortion must absolutely be outlawed. The principled on the opposite side say abortion is a woman's right in all circumstances. But in this November's election only two major presidential candidates have taken dogmatic, uncompromising positions on abortion—and they are not the candidates of the Right.

By reexamining this thorniest of issues, we can gain new insight into democracy in America 2000. I am not a professional ethicist, theologian, or politician … just a journalist and radio talk host sharing a few questions and impressions. Your insights and evidence are hereby invited to help enlarge my own limited understanding.

At one end of the spectrum are those who equate abortion with murder and would outlaw and punish it accordingly. Surprisingly, the so-called pro-life Republican candidates do not hold this position—and neither does their party.

Ambassador Alan Keyes view comes closest to the 1996 Republican Platform. "The unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed," it reads. "We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children." The Platform goes on to condemn "partial-birth abortion" and to encourage adoption as an alternative.

But both Keyes and the Republican Platform tiptoe around an obvious issue. If abortion constitutes murder of the unborn, there are murderers who deserve the most severe punishment.

The GOP Platform singles out for attention "those who perform abortions," doctors, nurses, and perhaps others. But these are merely the hitmen who carry out the contract killing. They act on the orders of others. Those others are the mothers, who voluntarily walk into a clinic, plunk down hundreds of dollars on the desk, and hire a doctor or nurse to snuff out the mother's chosen victim.

If Jill hires a professional killer to murder her husband, when such evidence comes to court, a district attorney will seek a murder conviction and, in many cases, the death penalty not only against the hired trigger man but also against Jill. If abortion is murder, why is the woman who contracts it and acts as an accomplice before, during, and after such a killing let off scot-free?

If the law is to deter and prevent abortion, is not the risk of a death penalty for any woman who premeditatedly directs the killing of her unborn baby the best deterrent to abortion? And the strongest incentive for adoption?

But Alan Keyes and the Republican Party flee from this obvious point like vampires from a crucifix. Willing and eager to morally compromise on this issue, the 1996 Republican Platform emphatically declares: "We oppose abortion, but our pro-life agenda does not include punitive action against women who have an abortion." Alan Keyes likewise would not punish women who kill their unborn babies because, he says, these women are "also victims." Really? The teen-aged girl or ambitious young career women who has an abortion to avoid embarrassment or inconvenience, or the couple who abort a girl baby because they prefer a boy, are "victims"?

This moral compromise by Keyes and the Republican Party—telling young women that they will not be punished under law—is politically understandable. Would juries convict such women? A pure position of principle, insisting on a death penalty for all murderers including mothers who kill their unborn, would likely have the support of far less than five percent of the electorate.

It would be political suicide, and in Alan Keyes' devout faith suicide is also a mortal sin.

But until Alan Keyes is willing to embrace a morally pure, uncompromising position on abortion that demands a death penalty for killer mothers, should he continue posturing on this issue in a holier-than-thou way? We remember the old joke—"Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?" "Certainly." "How about for $50?" "What do you think I am, a prostitute?" "We've already determined that. Now we're haggling over the price." That's Alan Keyes and the Republican Party Platform on the abortion issue.

Moving leftward on the abortion spectrum, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, like his father President Bush, would allow abortion in cases of rape, incest, and preserving the life of the mother. The woman called Jane Roe in Roe vs. Wade, now a born-again Christian, acknowledges that she lied by testifying in court that the pregnancy she wished to terminate was the result of rape. If a woman says she was raped, who can prove otherwise? The Bush exceptions to a prohibition of abortion are a big enough loophole, say hard-line pro-lifers, to permit almost any desired abortion. Like Keyes, Bush would outlaw partial-birth abortions. Unlike Keyes, Bush refuses to promise a litmus test to insure that judges he appoints for life would be pro-life.

A step farther to the left, Arizona Senator John McCain shares Bush's exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, and supports a ban on partial-birth abortion. He has an 85 percent pro-life voting record in Congress. McCain supported one bill that allowed for the medical use of fetal cells from aborted babies, a step pro-life critics see as justifying, profiting from, and potentially even encouraging abortion. Some fear it could create a ghoulish industry in which women get pregnant in order to abort and sell the unborn. McCain says he would not rush to overturn Roe vs. Wade with a constitutional amendment because public opinion is against this. In response to a hypothetical question about what he would do if his fifteen-year-old daughter got pregnant, McCain replied that "The final decision would be made by Meghan with our advice and counsel, and I think that's such a private matter."

(Privacy, which then-Supreme Court Justice William Brennan a quarter-century ago discovered hidden within the "emanations of the penumbra" of the U.S. Constitution, was the rationale upon which the abortion-legalizing Roe vs. Wade decision hangs. Brennan could discern a non-explicit privacy right in the Constitution, but his selective liberal vision was unable to recognize the explicit words of the Second, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments in our Bill of Rights.)

Ambassador Keyes in a presidential debate asked McCain whether, if his daughter proposed killing grandma for her life insurance, the Senator would propose a calm family discussion of the idea. "You tell her it's wrong!" thundered Keyes. But if his daughter announced that she had already had an abortion, Mr. Keyes would not call for her to be arrested and tried for murder. So how morally different, really, is Keyes' position from Senator McCain's?

Ambassador Keyes has declared that if Senator McCain is the Republican nominee for president, he will not support him. Mr. Keyes did not say whether he would endorse a potential Bush–McCain ticket that could put the Arizona Senator a heartbeat away from the presidency. (McCain's hero Teddy Roosevelt, remember, was the vice president of President William McKinley and reached the Oval Office by an assassin's bullet.) As a holy war has raged between Bush and McCain in recent days, some were wondering if Keyes and others who share his views are stealth members of the "Religious Right Party" masquerading as members of the Republican Party, which they support only as long as it advances their real party's agenda. According to hyper-leftist journalist Joe Conason, a favorite inside joke of religious-right people plotting to take over the GOP is: "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

"The pro-life movement in our nation … is one of passion, not compromise," wrote the Reverend Jerry Falwell, founder of the once-upon-a-time Moral Majority, in a recent column criticizing John McCain. But Keyes, Bush, and McCain are all compromised politicians on this issue. Does Reverend Falwell himself favor the death penalty for mothers who abort their babies? Who among these compromising candidates can Rev. Falwell support with a pure conscience?

(The Bible proclaims that we all are made in the image of God and that human life is therefore sacred. But when we turn to its Book of Exodus 21:22, Revised Standard Version, we read: "When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine." Perhaps theologians reading this can explain to me how causing the death of an unborn baby is punishable not as manslaughter or negligent homicide or second-degree murder, but as something punishable by a mere monetary fine. Many states now impose a separate murder charge on those who kill an unborn baby by shooting or otherwise injuring the mother, but they do not do likewise for abortionists.)

I have always wondered—why don't Christians and the devout of other faiths who believe life begins at conception institute a ritual in their churches to, for instance, baptize babies still in their mother's womb by the application of holy water to her abdomen? Why haven't the Pope and other pro-life religious leaders instituted some such ritual or sacrament to affirm for the mother, the father, and the community that life begins nine months prior to birth? To remind people that pregnancy itself is a sacred condition, miraculously creating a new temple of God within the temple of the mother's body? Surely the theologians of the world's great faiths can find some tiny opening, within or without the boundaries of their dogmas and sacraments, for such a ritual to sanctify lives waiting to be born.

Reflecting the deep ambiguity of the abortion issue, Libertarians are of two minds. Many believe that women own their bodies. To them any law banning abortion gives the state power to monitor and control women. Many other Libertarians believe that the unborn baby has the same human rights that those already born do, including a right to life. Most Libertarians probably believe abortion is morally abhorrent, but that so too is the slavery of state control and de facto ownership of our lives and bodies. Which is the lesser evil?

If you want people unwilling to compromise on this issue, the place to look is to the Left, the far Left of Hillary Clinton and Bill Bradley and Al Gore. They have no doubts about abortion. They are whole-heartedly, cold-heartedly for it.

President Bill Clinton, after extensive polling and focus-group testing, staked out for himself what today is probably the vague centrist view among Americans of abortion, that it should be "safe, legal, and rare." (Roughly 1.5 million abortions are performed each year in the United States, a number in slow decline as hearts change.) But the President strove to expand proposed Republican legislation to allow abortions in cases involving rape, incest, and the "health" (including the infinitely large loophole of mental health) of the mother. Clinton also put his veto against a legislative ban of partial-birth abortion, despite the widespread perception that this procedure is indistinguishable from infanticide. The Clinton Administration has expedited approval of the French RU-486 abortion pill and has distributed literature telling women how to overdose on existing birth-control pills to terminate a potential pregnancy.

But Hillary Clinton has gone even farther Left, proclaiming weeks ago that if elected Senator she would never vote to confirm any judge to the bench who was not completely pro-choice, i.e., in favor of extensive abortion rights. Republicans who take the opposite view are routinely condemned in the national media for "imposing a litmus test on judges," but the same media have been silent about Mrs. Clinton's comparable judicial litmus test.

The liberal use of the term pro-choice is often puzzling. As my colleague Chris Weinkopf explored in a column discussing the "Choose Life" state license plate controversy in Florida, such a motto is obviously pro-life and pro-choice, for it urges people to choose. (Mine was among the nation's first talk-radio shows to note the obvious alternative liberal license plate slogan: "Choose Death.") How odd that liberals are pro-choice on abortion but anti-choice on everything else—including vouchers so parents can choose private schools for their children, as 60 percent of African-Americans want to do to free their kids from socialist public schools and unionized teachers.

And although Democrat politicians are pro-choice on abortion, many oppose giving women a fully informed choice. A few years ago in the Massachusetts legislature, Democrat lawmakers went berserk when Republicans proposed a simple measure requiring doctors, before performing an abortion, to put a stethoscope on the mother's ears and have her listen for 30 seconds to the heartbeat of her unborn baby.

This, Democrat legislators loudly proclaimed, was an intolerable infringement on a woman's right to choose abortion! (Yes, these are the same kind of Democrats who demand a five-day waiting period before a citizen can exercise his or her Second Amendment right to buy a gun, and who rationalize this in part as a "cooling off" period to prevent the purchase of a gun while somebody is emotionally upset.) Is 30 seconds too long a waiting period before a woman authorizes the killing of a baby inside her? Or do liberals love abortion so much that they want nothing, such as the brief sound of a second human heartbeat within the distraught woman, to override the liberal sacrament of the vacuum, the human sacrifice of the knife?

Democrats also call themselves civil libertarians. Why, then, have they embraced laws requiring anti-abortion protestors to remain fixed distances from abortion clinics and their patrons? A person whose picket sign reads "Mother, don't kill your baby" might in Denver be required to stay eight feet away from those going in and out of such a clinic. But someone whose picket sign reads "On Strike for higher wages. Meat Cutters and Abortionists Local 869, AFL-CIO" would not be restricted to such "buffer zones." Why do liberals limit the right of free speech, depending on what a person has to say?

Among the oddities of this presidential race is former Senator Bill Bradley (D., NJ) and Vice President Al Gore trying to "out-choice" one another over abortion. Bradley insists he has always favored a woman's absolute "right to choose," yea onto the ninth month of pregnancy, with abortion guaranteed at taxpayer expense for any desired purpose, including sex-selection abortions of girls (in the name of women's rights) as is practiced in Communist China.

Gore first denied, then when confronted with his own letters as a Tennessee congressman during the 1980s admitted, that he used to advocate some limits on abortion. But, proclaims Gore, his views have evolved and he, like Bradley, now fully favors taxing devout Roman Catholics and other abortion opponents so that the fruits of their labor can bankroll abortions for welfare recipients. Partial-birth abortion? We fully support them, boast Gore and Bradley.

But why stop there, Democrats? When will feminists insist that Bradley and Gore take the next logical tiny step and embrace Australian philosopher Peter Singer, now a Professor of Ethics at Bradley's alma mater, Princeton University? Dr. Singer favors not only pre-natal abortion and partial-birth abortion, performed by vacuuming the brains of a baby nine-tenths born while its head is forcibly held just inside the mother's birth canal to make it legal. Dr. Singer also advocates what could be called "post-natal abortion," giving parents weeks or even months following a birth to decide whether a baby's condition makes it too much of a burden for itself, or them, to merit life. In Dr. Singer's view, we should be able to do, metaphorically, as the ancient Greeks and Romans did—to end the life of any unwanted baby by leaving it out on a hillside to die of exposure or be eaten by wolves (or, as with Rome's legendary founders Romulus or Remus, to be adopted by a she-wolf). Parents, in Singer's view, should be allowed to put to death their newly born infants. If asked to approve this small next step into liberalism in front of a feminist group, would either Gore or Bradley refuse?

Dr. Singer defines one end of the abortion spectrum. At the other are accused abortion-clinic bombers such as Eric Robert Rudolph, who probably fancies himself the John Brown of moral self-righteousness, a vigilante of divine wrath, on this issue. All the rest of us fit somewhere in between.

Politicians seem oily because that is their job. Democracy asks us all to get dirty with that oil. Just as politicians compromise away their moral purity, we by voting for such people are self-anointed with their impurity. We vote for a lesser of evils and try to forget that it, too, is evil.

As a result, many on the Religious Right, as columnist and author of Blinded by the Might Cal Thomas recently noted, have become ungodly in their embrace of Caesar and their willingness to lie and cheat and slander to get their preferred candidate elected. A religious political party loses both its integrity as religion and its virtue as politics. Without separation of church and state, as America's brightest Founding Fathers knew, we could easily start down that slippery slope to the religious wars that ravaged Europe. Many on the unreligious Left, in their eagerness to impose an ideology distinguishable from religion only by its lack of a God higher than the Orwellian State, have lost their sense of human rights and the sanctity of life that ultimately protect us all.

Electoral democracy empowers us, but it also turns all of us into politicians who compromise our values. From Alan Keyes to Al Gore, all our available choices for president fall short of pure goodness. But as in the days of King David, it is with oil and not with holy water that we anoint our rulers.


Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.


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