The abortion question Republican candidates should dread

Ten of the Republican presidential candidates square off at the first official debate of the 2016 campaign on Aug. 6 in Cleveland, Ohio. Brian Snyder | Reuters

Ten of the Republican presidential candidates square off at the first official debate of the 2016 campaign on Aug. 6 in Cleveland, Ohio. Brian Snyder | Reuters

It could be a moment of high drama in fall 2016. Standing on a stage during a presidential debate, the Republican candidate might be asked, “If your wife or daughter needed an abortion to save her life, do you think she should die rather than have an abortion?”

Such a question points to the extreme nature of many Republicans candidates’ positions on abortion.

Last week’s Republican presidential debate showed how far its candidates would go.

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, was asked about his opposition to abortion when a woman’s life was threatened. Walker pretended there were no such cases and falsely claimed “I’ve got a position that’s in line with everyday Americans.”

Doctors say Walker is wrong. As the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reports, “pregnancy complications, such as placental abruption, bleeding from placenta previa, preeclampsia or eclampsia, and cardiac or renal conditions, may be so severe that an abortion is the only measure to preserve a woman’s health or save her life.”

Walker also got it wrong about public opinion, as polling shows over 80 percent disagree with him.

That night former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush boasted about defunding Planned Parenthood and instead funding so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which routinely lie to pregnant women who come to them seeking help. As ACOG writes, these centers claim  “false links between abortion and breast cancer, infertility, mental illness, and other misinformation.”

After that debate, Sen. Marco Rubio made it clear that he didn’t think women who got pregnant from rape or incest should have access to a safe, legal abortion.

Bush and Walker both defunded Planned Parenthood during their governorships.

Meanwhile, Maine recently expanded Medicaid funding for reproductive health services. Truth be told, this funding might not have survived a veto from Gov. Paul LePage, but it was among the bills he didn’t veto after claiming he had more time on the veto clock than he really had.

Recently activists opposed to legal abortion released misleadingly edited tapes about transferring fetal tissue to research centers in order to try to defund a major provider of reproductive health services, Planned Parenthood.

Most Americans not only oppose overturning legal abortion, but also want this research to continue. Fetal tissue research has been around for decades and played a role in developing the polio vaccine.

Now incredible progress is being made in helping people with Parkinson’s disease, ALS and MS. When the U.S. Senate voted on fetal tissue research in 1992, Republican Sen. Bob Dole called supporting it “the true pro-life position.”

If the tissue wasn’t used for research, it would be discarded. Not using it for research stops not one abortion but hinders finding cures.

Now the purveyors of these tapes have raised the profile of abortion, women’s health care and this sort of research. The issue split Maine’s U.S. senators. When voting on whether to block a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood, Sen. Angus King voted to protect Planned Parenthood’s funding and Sen. Susan Collins voted otherwise.

There’s even talk from some Republicans about shutting down the government to try to stop money going to Planned Parenthood, a group that receives no federal funds for abortion. Many of them oppose anything but abstinence-based sex education, which is terribly ineffective.

Americans see Planned Parenthood much more positively than the Republican Party, and shutting down government to defund it is very unpopular. A majority are pro-choice, including 54 percent of women and most adults under 55.

Most abortions happen very early in pregnancies and don’t involve rape or incest or threats to the woman’s life and health.

Still, unwanted pregnancies happen. Sexual desire and sex are normal parts of life, and no birth control is perfect.

Pregnancy when you want to have a child is joyful, but pregnancy and labor are uncomfortable at best. Women are 14 times more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth than from abortion. Thus saying abortions are “about inconvenience” is patronizing. So are claims that women will suffer horrible regrets, especially since very few do.

In our sprawling country, people’s ethical and religious positions on abortion vary, and all deserve respect.

But if next fall candidates are asked if a woman should die rather than have an abortion that can save her life, opponents of all legal abortion will find that very hard to explain.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.