On “Pro-Choice Republicans”

This RH Reality Check article on pro-choice Republicans has intrigued me and got my brain whirling. To someone like me, “pro-choice Republican” is quite the oxymoron. Yeah, I’ve heard of them existing (though I don’t recall every knowingly meeting one in person). But every time I hear the concept, my head just about explodes.

The basic premise for pro-choice Republicans, which I accept, is that traditional Republican values of personal freedom and lack of government intrusion are perfectly in line with legal abortion and medical privacy. But there are two very significant problems here. The first is that the Republican Party has seemingly not stood for these principles in some time, and certainly not in my time. In my 23 years, Republicans have always been anti-gay rights, anti-abortion, anti-black civil rights and in favor of abandoning the most basic principles of the capitalism they so adore by artificially propping up big business. The second problem is that merely being in favor of legal abortion doesn’t make one pro-choice.

As I argued in my Blog for Choice post, being “pro-choice” these days is — or should be — about a lot more than legal abortion. It should be about actively ensuring that all women have reproductive options. That includes abortion, the right to parent, public health care, financial assistance for low-income mothers, readily available job training, education and parenting classes to all who want them, child care, parental leave for all, accessible birth control and emergency contraception, sex education, a public dialogue about sex as a healthy part of life, birth options, after-abortion counseling for those who would like it, humane foreign and immigration policies . . . I could go on and on. Essentially, if we want to be reputable and relevant, those of us who are pro-choice have to advocate for reproductive justice. (Is there a phrase for this that I haven’t yet heard? Pro-reproductive justice sounds kind of clunky, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever come across someone using it.)

I have an exceedingly difficult time believing that Republicans could support reproductive justice framework. It requires taxes, social programs and doing away with the mantra of “every man for himself” (a phrase where in context alone, it seems like “man” is actually a more accurate option than “person”). And if the Republican Majority for Choice members actually do support these things — to their credit, they express support at least for sex education, EC access and even Medicaid funded abortions — what the fuck are they doing voting Republican?

In the end, I think that’s what my struggle with the concept of pro-choice Republicans comes down to: if you’re pro-choice, why the hell are you voting Republican? Surely, you don’t have to agree with a person’s every platform to vote for them. If that were the case, I doubt that I’d vote at all (unless I wanted to write in my own name). But I do think that there are certain matters of principle that shouldn’t be compromised, and for me those principles include the open hostility and bigotry towards an oppressed group of people for explicit political gain. For example, if Barack Obama was otherwise the same candidate that he is now, but talked about gay people in the same way as Mike Huckabee — sinful, depraved humans who are hellbent on ruining the family structure, don’t deserve rights, do deserve religious brainwashing and should be quarantined if infected with HIV/AIDS — I wouldn’t be able to vote for him. And if he were the same candidate except for holding the same views towards immigrants as Tom Tancredo, this would still be true. Anti-choice politicians feel comparably towards women.

Now, there are exceptions. If faced with a gay-hating Democrat who I otherwise generally agreed with and a gay-hating Republican, I would probably still vote for the Democrat, vote for a third party candidate or not vote all, depending on the circumstances (read: how much I hate the Republican). If faced with an anti-choice Democrat and a pro-choice Republican, I’d probably keel over and die from the shock (anti-choice Dems aren’t exceedingly rare, but pro-choice Republicans are), but if I survived I’d be faced with quite the moral quandary indeed and don’t know what I would do. There are also issues that we have opinions on but don’t care enough about to have them be a primary basis for changing a vote.

But somehow, I can’t imagine that people who form and join a group called Republican Majority for Choice would fall into the “pro-choice but mostly indifferent” category.

And rather than behaving as though they’re trapped in a moral conflict between opposing political views, the group actually does campaign work. Not necessarily for candidates, but certainly against them:

What Ferguson disparages most is the claiming and renouncing of the pro-life mantle simply for political gain. In that same article on the missing G.O.P. anchor, Nagourney claimed that it was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney who has tried most “assiduously… to stitch the ideological fabric of his party back together. He shifted positions on some social issues – including abortion rights, stem cell research and gay rights – with an eye to winning the allegiance of social conservatives.” And this is what infuriates the Republican Majority for Choice. Rather than seeing Romney’s flip-flopping as an indication of some sympathy, however disposable, to a woman’s right to choose, RMC sees Romney as the worst offender of the bunch on choice issues.

[. . .]

So Republican Majority for Choice spent $100,000 to air a well-publicized 30-second television spot attacking Romney’s record on choice in Iowa and New Hampshire and ran full-page ads opposing Romney in the Des Moines Register, the Concord Monitor, and the New Hampshire Union-Leader. Describing the motivation for the ads, Ferguson says, “We felt an obligation to let voting population know that you can’t use important issues like this as a political football and get away with it anymore. His own strategy has proven to be his Achilles heel. The one thing that the polls show again and again is that people don’t trust him. And I think our ad was a catalyst for that.” In response to the ad, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden claimed that the group is “trying to destroy the Republican Party’s position on the issue of protecting life.”

The danger, of course, for RMC is that the ad cuts two ways: while it may turn committed pro-choice Republican voters off Romney, it may inflame committed anti-choice voters for the same reason. When the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus went to Iowa in December, she reported: “Huckabee is getting help delivering that message from some surprising bedfellows: A new ad by the Republican Majority for Choice details Romney’s shifting positions on abortion – and urges him to flip back, but it may have the effect of driving more voters to the staunchly anti-abortion Huckabee.” But when I asked Ferguson whether the ad may have motivated anti-choice voters to see Romney as insufficiently anti-choice and thus vote for a more consistently anti-choice candidate, she responded that it’s the lack of trustworthiness, not necessarily, the record, that’s an anti-choice candidate’s biggest problem.

This right here pisses me the fuck off. I’ve long believed that if you are willing to pretend to hate women (and, in Romney’s case, gays as well) for political gain, there’s no pretending involved; you hate women. So do I see Romney as any less of an anti-choice candidate than Huckabee? Absolutely not. But is Huckabee less of an anti-choice candidate than Romney? No fucking way.

I don’t even know how to begin following this logic: we support reproductive freedom, but will only oppose anti-choice candidates who have scorned us in the past. No anti-Huckabee ads. No anti-McCain ads. Both of them have stronger anti-choice records and use scarier anti-choice language. And certainly, integrity is a valid issue, but one that’s more important than platform and voting record? Romney’s flip-flop makes him less acceptable than Huckabee, less likely to work with pro-choice groups? Quite honestly, it almost has me wondering if RMC actually believes what it claims and isn’t just trying to squeeze the seemingly more electable candidate (McCain) through the primaries.

With all this being said, there are some interesting facts out there:

Overall, 60% of Republicans surveyed would be likely to vote for a candidate with whom he or she disagreed on abortion, so long as the candidate well-represented the voter’s other views. Of all the voter categories in the survey, only moralists had a majority believing that abortion should be illegal under any circumstances. So now the party’s over. “I think moderate Republicans are realizing that the faction of the party that is anti-choice – we’ve said, well, they’re going to help us get our candidates elected, but they’re not going to control our issues and the platform, we see that they’ve increasingly gained control of the agenda, and the agenda’s so far gone from what it should be and the core Republican values,” she concludes.

By Ferguson’s reckoning, polls that show that a majority of Republicans nationwide are pro-life do not accurately reflect the political values and beliefs of those surveyed: someone who is personally pro-life can still believe that the government should not be involved in making that decision for other women. Her logic may explain why, in a poll conducted over the summer to assess attitudes within the Republican Party on a range of social and political issues, 72% of Republicans surveyed believed that abortion should be a decision made by “a woman, her family, and her doctor.”

What this tells us is that abortion is more of a workable issue than we have been lead to believe. And in fact, studies have shown time and time again that polling based on “pro-choice” and “pro-life” labels are unreliable because their meanings have been skewed. The other studies you often see, with large numbers saying that abortion should be legal but with restrictions, are also meaningless. To some, “restrictions” can mean “illegal except for rape and incest” and to others it could mean “illegal in the third trimester except for a woman’s health.” Much more so than we’ve been led to believe, I do think that abortion is a generally workable issue with the public.

So does that mean we should take that opportunity and run with it? The obvious answer is yes, but I have my hesitations. I worry about compromising on abortion when so many “compromises” have already been made. And even more than that, I worry about yet again giving the finger poor women and women of color. To paraphrase my earlier comments, if we act like we don’t give a shit about women of color and poor women for political gain, we actually don’t give a shit. Getting Republicans to agree that the government should be out of their personal lives is relatively easy. Getting Republicans to agree that abortions should be publicly funded through Medicaid, that we need to put more social programs in place to help mothers with health, education and childcare, that we should open our eyes to the impact that our immigration, foreign, economic and military policies have on mothers and families, that we should teach their teenagers how to use condoms . . . good fucking luck with that. Christ, with a few exceptions, good luck with that with the damn Dems.

To me, working with “pro-choice Republicans” signals settling for less when we need to be demanding and fighting for more.

But what do you think? In the off chance that there are some pro-choice Republicans out there, do you offer any words of defense? To the majority of you, do you agree that we need to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism about pro-choice Republicans and that working with the GOP is asking for trouble? Or do you believe that it’s a necessary evil, and if so, how do you defend it?

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. And I do think that finding middle-ground is important right about now. I also think that when you make a deal with the devil — yes, as recent history has shown, when Democrats try to make a deal with Republicans — you’re going to get burned.

0 thoughts on “On “Pro-Choice Republicans”

  1. Al

    I think for a lot of pro choice Republicans (that feels strange to even write) it’s a comfortable position, as it can garner support from those who may otherwise support a conservative agenda if it was more in line with their pro choice views. Or stated pro choice views.

    The reason I say it’s comfortable, is that the Republican party will never endorse a candidate who comes down on the side of reproductive freedom. I think they know this better than we do, therefore isn’t it easy to pay lip service to what is really going to be a theoretical discussion.

    I’m reminded of The Log Cabin Republicans, those strange four or five gay men in the country who can’t stop trying to advance an agenda of assimilation and being “as good as them”. They state they are pro choice, but if you break it down it’s done to attract the maybe three or four conservative, pro choice lesbians somewhere out there. But I just can’t see them ever following through on that concept.

  2. Cara Post author

    Ugh. The Log Cabin Republicans didn’t even cross my mind when writing this. My assumption is that they — with Andrew Sullivan possibly being their most famous supporter — are upper-class white men who find their personal wealth to be more important than silly things like marriage rights and anti-discrimination legislation. Of course, when you’re wealthy you can hire lawyers to draft up the best possible legal documents to have the best possible chance of you and your partner having the right to things like decisions over medical treatment and inheritance, and once you’re already wealthy, discrimination isn’t such a big problem, anymore. It’s a question of priorities, really.

    But the weird thing is that once you’re out, you kind of have to find a way to reconcile your sexuality with voting for a party desperate to discriminate against you. But no one really has to make a big deal about being pro-choice, now do they?

  3. Hypatia

    I think a big part of the cognitive dissonance you’re experiencing might boil down to this: Not all pro-choice people *do* believe that “pro-choice” is precisely the same as “pro-reproductive-justice-framework” — indeed, people who identify as *fiscally* conservative don’t necessarily believe that “pro-reproductive-justice” equals “pro-government-funded-reproductive-justice-framework”.

    I believe that the position my libertarian-leaning family members take is like the one described here:

    That is, they believe that abortion rights are a matter of privacy as much as of feminism — that it’s your own business what you do in your own home, with your own body, etc. This position — right or wrong — doesn’t logically require that the government make it *easy* to get health care, abortions, and so on; but it *does* logically require that they not forbid it.

  4. Cara Post author

    I agree, Hypatia. I tried to express in the post that I think being in favor of legal abortion is defensible from a Republican standpoint, but that being in favor of an agenda that is truly in favor of reproductive health is not. And that’s why I think that working with them could be a mistake.

  5. jovan byars

    As of 11/03/2004, pro-choice Republican has become oxymoronic. In fact, Betsy Cavendish (then-interim president of NARAL) was ejected when she questioned the GOP platform process while it was being conducted.

    So, you’re so correct, Cara. Thanks for confirming what I long knew: there is NO such thing as a ‘pro-choice Republican’ or even a ‘mixed-choice Republican’.

  6. Al

    Cara your point about having to reconcile an orientation with your voting patterns and the reality of what some of those seeking your vote would like to see occur, is a good one. One that I frankly don’t understand where this Log Cabin thing comes from. The idea that core human rights and fundamental freedoms need to be earned by being the *best* gay person, person of color, woman, etc. is so abhorrent, I just can’t relate to the Log Cabin way of thinking.

    To me, abortion access is inherently tied into gay rights in that control over personal destiny and control over ones physical self don’t ever need to be qualified. Though it is not often, if ever framed that way in the wider white, gay male community.

    Often, if the only minority status one know is their orientation, and they have the ability to “pass” as hetero (not saying it’s a good option, just that for many of us it is still in fact an option), you probably won’t think about the myriad ways oppressions intersect without having personal experience with it, or some interest in the field. I know my interest in this type of social justice stemmed from when I was introduced to academic feminism.


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