In the aftermath of Scott Brown’s historic victory in Massachusetts, some observers were quick to ask a hard question: did pro-life organizations and individuals sell their souls in campaigning for Brown, a pro-choice Republican and supporter of Roe v. Wade? In other words, did political expediency trump ideological commitment for pro-lifers?
Such a charge is somewhat disconcerting to those who keep track of this debate because the accusation came from the same liberal camp that so-often has criticized the pro-life movement in the past for not lowering their standards and for rigidly neglecting the quest to find common ground or incremental solutions to the ongoing tragedy of abortion. And yet, after Massachusetts, these same figures are now complaining that the pro-life movement betrayed its principles in taking Brown’s side in this nationally visible race, by supporting a candidate who advocates both incremental and common ground solutions on abortion.
Certainly these critics do make a valid observation when they point out that during the post-Brown celebrations many leaders of the pro-life movement sometimes overlooked the amount of disagreement that at times exists between them and Brown on life issues. However, this oversight was less due to expediency but rather was born from relief: for the first time in over a year, the pro-life movement had truly caught a break.
Consider the history: after the election of Barack Obama (a staunch supporter of abortion-on-demand) and after heavy losses among pro-life representatives in both chambers of Congress (including the emergence of a supermajority Democrat Senate that strongly leans pro-choice), together with the juggernaut of a health care reform bill containing huge federal subsidies for abortion providers—the pro-life movement had been having a hard go of it, and was more than ready to hear something other than the worst possible news.
But did the pro-life movement, and Catholics in particular, sell their souls to help Brown win, and fight for the better outcome?
The most common charge against the pro-life movement these days, especially when that movement is involved in politics and elections, is that it is actually a front of the Republican Party (never mind the fact that the pro-choice movement lumps the vast majority of its money and resources behind the Democratic party candidates). This pro-Republicanism is how liberals explain the pro-life movement’s support of both John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, and their incongruous support of Scott Brown (a pro-choicer) in the 2010 Massachusetts senate race: they’re both Republicans.
But the common thread between these two decisions is far more disarmingly simple: Brown and McCain, while not perfect from the perspective of the pro-life movement, were better pro-life choices than their respective alternatives.
In the case of the general election between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008, the pro-life movement was confronted, on the one hand, with an on-the-record 100 percent pro-abortion Democrat candidate (who even supported late-term abortions and promised a group of abortion supporters to sign the Freedom of Choice Act). On the other hand, the pro-life movement had the option of supporting a Republican candidate who ran on the pro-life platform of the Republican party, chose a highly-visible pro-life Vice-President, and could be reasonably expected to support the nomination of pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.