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On Pawlenty’s Pro-Life Credibility



Pawlenty reportedly stumbled on an important pro-life issue in Iowa on Monday, telling an interviewer that he opposed any “criminal sanction” on abortion. His staff later issued a clarification, saying that Pawlenty does in fact believe “abortion providers should be subject to a penalty possibly including a criminal penalty” but “does not believe women should be penalized.”

Pawlenty’s primary opponents may well pounce on this incident as either a flip-flop or an indication of a lack of serious commitment on the abortion issue, but the fact remains that there is disagreement among serious pro-lifers as to what specific sanctions should be put in place to protect the rights of unborn children. Even more important than this for pro-life voters, I think, is to gauge the overall sincerity of a candidate’s commitment to the general principle that unborn life should be protected by law. In this regard, I think Pawlenty’s speech to the Susan B. Anthony List in March 2010 repays study. (This adapted version appeared in the Human Life Review.)

In that speech, he talked about the need to change hearts and minds on abortion, so that we will have a chance, incrementally, to change the laws. And he explained how that has worked out in practice:

In Minnesota — again, one of the most liberal states in the country — I proposed, signed, and passed Women’s Right to Know, 24-hour waiting period, fetal-pain legislation, legislation about positive alternatives to abortion. I got elected. I got re-elected. And so, it’s not only politically viable, it’s the right thing to do. [I think he meant the reverse order here, but this part of the speech may have been off-the-cuff.---MP] And for people who say you have to soften, you have to distract, you have to dilute: That’s not what we believe, it’s not what’s right, and again, if you can do it in Minnesota you can do it anywhere in this country.

That sounds to me like a man with certain core beliefs, who advances them in a prudent manner.

Our own Kathryn Lopez attended that speech, and her column of the time summarizes the effect that speech had on the audience: He came across as the real thing. (Personally, I was especially impressed by the kind words he said about his possible primary rival Michele Bachmann, for whom I have a bit of a soft spot. The remarks about her were more effusive than they needed to be, considered in purely political terms; and thus they, too, suggested sincerity.)

I do not intend this post as an endorsement of Pawlenty, or even as an assertion that he is the “most pro-life candidate” (however one might wish to define that phrase); I have no candidate as yet. But I think anyone inclined to distrust or disparage Pawlenty on the pro-life issue should look at the SBA List speech, and at Kathryn’s column, before doing so.