In Lee Habeeb’s eloquent cri de coeur, he cites Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock as examples of how the pro-life cause is damaged “when we take our position to the extreme.” Is it? The counterexample would be Barack Obama. He took his position on abortion to the extreme, never backed down, and has twice been elected president, while the abortion-rights cause, which he champions, hasn’t noticeably suffered as a result. Ten years ago in the Illinois state senate, he opposed the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, arguing against a measure to protect infants who survive abortion. The common practice was to suffocate them or abandon them to die in a utility room.
Note that Akin did not bring up the subject. A TV interviewer did. Mourdock brought up rape in answer to a debate moderator’s question about “the issue of abortion and contraception” and whether “life begins at conception.” For balance, the Democratic Senate nominees in Missouri and Indiana should have been asked whether they supported the president’s acceptance of infanticide as a necessary bulwark against attacks on abortion rights.
The abortion-rights side tries to advance the ball to earliest pregnancy and all the way to conception, hoping to change the argument to one about birth control. Pro-lifers try to move the ball in the opposite direction. Legislation to ban partial-birth abortion in the 1990s shifted attention to abortion where it most resembles infanticide, and Gallup soon began to register a shift in public opinion toward the pro-life brand and away from that of abortion rights. In the 2012 campaign, Democrats and their friends in the media succeeded in moving the ball back toward conception.
How should Republicans respond? Lee’s suggestion to pro-life Christians, with whom pro-life Republicans are obviously aligned (and in most cases probably identified), builds on the longstanding networks of crisis-pregnancy centers at the heart of the pro-life movement. In the United States they outnumber abortion clinics three to one. If you don’t know about Birthright, you should. For decades, pro-lifers have been promoting CPCs, which are maligned in the media and defended by their guardian angel, but just because they deserve to move public opinion toward the pro-life position doesn’t mean the media gatekeepers will let them.
UPDATE: The original version read: “Note that neither Akin nor Mourdock brought up the subject of rape. Debate moderators did.” Akin’s answer was in response to a TV interviewer. In Mourdock’s case, the debate moderator did not reference abortion.