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Elections, the Importance of Candidates, & Fighting for a Culture of Life
Teresa Collette, J.D. | 27 August 2020
According to Wikipedia, we are in the midst of what has been known for more than a century as “the silly season.”[i] “In US politics and lifestyle, the silly season is a period from early summer until the first week of October of election years.” Historically, legislatures are not in session and government officials vacation during this season, so political news focuses on the trivial and faddish, instead of providing any real insight on the way we order our common life together.
Yet, this year the “silly season” seems inordinately serious – in large part due to the pandemic with its attendant social isolation, quarantines, and economic upheaval, followed by social unrest and civil disorder occasioned by perceptions of police misconduct and racial inequalities. Pent up aggression, fear, and a collective desire to blame somebody – anybody – is real and palpable as we navigate toward the election of a Congress and President who must simultaneously lead efforts to restore not only civil peace and our economy, but guide endeavors to protect public health and the lives of our citizens.
For many of us in the pro-life movement, this seems to be a particularly momentous year given the wildly disparate actions we have witnessed by states and the federal government in regulating abortion and protecting the lives of our elderly and most vulnerable.
During the past four years, we have seen state leaders celebrate the elimination of legal protections afforded viable unborn children from abortions that are both unnecessary and more dangerous for the mother. Even the abortion industry recognizes that post-viability childbirth is the safer choice, both protecting the health of the mother and preserving the life of the child. Yet Congress repeatedly refused to enact federal legislation to eliminate the barbaric practice of killing unborn children capable of living separately from the mother. Even in some cases proudly denied effective legal protection for those few children who manage to survive failed attempts to abort them. Politicians in New York, Virginia, and Illinois publically celebrated expanding post-viability abortions – and, in New York, the state even eliminated protections afforded viable unborn children whose mothers wanted to carry them to term.
In states where infections from the Corona Virus posed grave threats to public health, government officials prohibited almost all elective medical procedures, the sole exception often being abortion, which was declared an “essential service.” The fact that, unlike almost every other medical condition warranting surgical intervention, unwanted pregnancies, just like wanted pregnancies, safely terminate within nine months from their beginning, was judicially deemed irrelevant to elevating abortion above every other elective procedure.
At the other end of life’s spectrum, state responses to the threat posed by COVID to the elderly (and people suffering from certain life-threatening conditions) varied from strict isolation to deliberate exposure to those infected with the virus. Charles Camosy, a bioethicist, and theologian has documented the toll this has taken on our parents and grandparents. "[A]bout half of those who have died from Covid-19 have been nursing home residents”[ii] as of May 2020.
To pro-lifers all of these tragedies provide damning evidence of growing indifference to the value of every human life, from the moment of fertilization to the time of natural death.
Yet there have also been signs of hope. In June Medical v. Russo, the Supreme Court removed the “benefit to women” test for abortion legislation that had been engrafted on the “substantial obstacle” to access test developed by the plurality in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This change is crucial to assuring that the abortion industry has the burden of proof to show a law is unconstitutional, instead of the government having to establish that it is. There are newly established procedures for healthcare workers to enforce their federally protected rights of conscience[iii] related to abortion, sterilization, and other procedures, an important advance as states like California and New York attempt to force Catholic hospitals and faithful healthcare workers to participate in procedures that end human lives. Finally, pro-life governors and attorneys general are becoming bolder in their defense of pro-life laws that hopefully will effectuate the change we all pray for.
What does this have to do with it being "the silly season" that precedes every national election?
Each of these government actions or omissions is the result of choices we make when we vote – either directly, as when we choose members of Congress or state legislatures, or indirectly, through those elected officials' actions in selecting, confirming, and overseeing judges and other government officials. If we care about the millions of lives ended through abortion and medical neglect of our elderly, we must care about the views, voting records, and actions of our government officials. And, that means we must educate ourselves on the candidates, their views, and their records.
As a national forum for discussion of pro-life issues, it is impossible to review all the candidates for public office or even all federal office candidates in this essay. Instead, we will have to be content with a quick overview of the treatment of abortion in the national platforms adopted by our two major political parties as some evidence of the competing visions of the future we will be choosing between this Fall.
Since the judicial usurpation[iv] of the issue of abortion in Roe v. Wade, Americans largely have segregated themselves into two warring camps, each one represented by a major political party. Those recognizing the humanity of unborn have largely aligned with the Republican Party, resulting in a party platform[v] that has called for a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions nationwide since 1980.[vi] The 2016 platform[vii] continued this commitment, and that provision is still in effect for the 2020 campaign, due to the complications resulting from moving the Republican convention due to COVID. The platform opposes taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers and calls on Congress and the states to pass stronger prohibitions on the sale of fetal body parts. Euthanasia, assisted suicide, and non-consensual withholding of food and water from the disabled and elderly are all condemned.
In contrast, those who believe that the fetus does not attain moral or legal significance until he or she is capable of living outside the woman’s body have associated with the Democratic Party. A party which has increasingly reduced[viii] or denied any legal protection to the unborn prior to birth. In their 2020 national platform, the Democratic Party has made multiple promises regarding abortion. First and foremost, the platform commits the party to expanding abortion rights and fully funding those rights by taxpayers. The platform commits Democrats to oppose and seek to overturn federal and state laws that limit access to abortion while providing additional funding to the United Nations Population Fund. An international organization that has honored the architect of the Chinese Government's one-child policy[ix] and an Indian prime minister who conducted a national campaign of forced sterilization[x] as “outstanding contributions to population and reproductive health questions and to their solutions.”
These two platforms sharply contrast in their treatment of the unborn human life as well as the role of government in promoting or limiting the practice. Political scientists tell us that, while many political candidates have spent little time studying their party's platform when elected, they tend to vote[xi] and allocate government funding in close adherence to the party platform. This is why it is critical for pro-lifers to help educate others on this phenomenon.
[v] At the time of publication, both Democratic and Republican Platforms were not available for public viewing as they had been just approved and are being printed for final publication. Family Research Council has issued a side by side analysis of each party's 2020 platform for review regarding the life issues. The analysis may be viewed here: https://downloads.frcaction.org/EF/EF18H05.pdf.
Teresa Collette, J.D.
Professor of Law
University of St. Thomas School of Law