Responding to Ramesh on the Pro-Life Pledge

by Michael J. New

On Thursday, Ramesh took issue with my blogpost supporting the Susan B. Anthony List’s “Pro-Life Citizen’s Pledge.” To be honest, I agree with some of Ramesh’s criticisms. I would have worded the pledge somewhat differently. The phrase “relevant Cabinet and Executive Branch positions” seems a bit vague. “Ending all taxpayer funding of abortion” could also be interpreted in a variety of ways. However, the pledge serves a useful purpose because it gets presidential candidates to publicly commit to two goals important to pro-lifers, defunding Planned Parenthood and signing a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

I would be curious to hear what Ramesh’s thoughts are on Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge. On balance, I think that this has been a net plus for the conservative movement. Some have quibbled with the manner in which ATR has chosen to enforce the pledge over the years. However, I think it has done a nice job branding the Republican party as a low-tax party and it has created a real disincentive for many Republican elected officials to vote in favor of tax increases.

A pro-life pledge could play a similar role in branding the Republican party as a pro-life party. I wish a similar pledge had been around during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. I think it might have given pro-lifers more leverage with Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and possibly even George W. Bush. It is even paying dividends this election cycle as presidential candidates who have not signed the pledge, including Herman Cain and Mitt Romney, have made some specific tangible promises to pro-lifers about policies they would pursue if elected.

Social conservatives are often frustrated by the fact that we often lack leverage with elected officials after election time. This is partly because social conservatives are somewhat thin on the ground in Washington, D.C. It is also because social conservatives lack influence in elite academic, cultural, and media institutions. As such, strategies that have the potential to give pro-lifers greater influence over elected officials are certainly worthy of support.

Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.