Politics & Policy

Pro-Life, Pro-McCain

A candidate with an unmatchable record on life issues.

If there is a NARAL hit list I am on it. I have testified before one or another congressional committee in favor of almost every important pro-life law proposed in the last decade. I testified as an expert in constitutional law for laws against partial-birth abortion, human cloning, and killing unborn children (save in the course of a lawful abortion). The last one is technically about “feticide”; it was formally styled Unborn Victims of Violence Act. More popularly, it came to be known as “Laci and Connor’s Law,” for the mother and her (unborn) child who were killed by Scott Peterson a few years ago in California.

I also testified for The Born Alive Infants’ Protection Act. This law says that once a baby is actually delivered from the womb — even if delivery occurs during a “botched” abortion — that newborn baby is, legally speaking, a person. He or she may not be killed, just as no other person may be killed. NRO friend Hadley Arkes drafted this law, and worked tirelessly for its passage. John McCain supported all these laws. And I support him for President.

McCain is not the only pro-life candidate in the Republican field. There are — and were — others. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback is rightly regarded as a champion of the unborn. He was no doubt the first choice of many ardent pro-life Republicans. But Brownback gave up his campaign for the Republican nomination months ago. Now he is backing McCain.

Of the remaining pro-life Republicans, none can match McCain’s record of opposing abortion. He has served in Congress for 24 years, and cast a lot of votes on abortion legislation during that time. His record is not merely exemplary — it is perfect. McCain’s votes on abortion really could not be better. A campaign advertisement in South Carolina says of John McCain: “Pro-life. Not just recently. Always. Never wavering.” The ad is true.

It is no criticism of any other pro-life candidate to say that McCain’s track record makes him the best of a small number of good choices. Mike Huckabee is a good man and solidly pro-life. I personally do not doubt the sincerity or depth of Mitt Romney’s present commitment to the unborn. But experience matters. Being battle-hardened in defense of life is a real plus. Twenty-four years of service at the national level — almost all of them in the Senate — make a big difference when we are talking about the next President, compared to candidates who have been small-state governors. There is no need to speculate or to rely upon promises or take matters on faith when it comes to McCain and abortion. He has demonstrated himself to be the best pro-life choice.

McCain has said — it is true — that he approved embryo-destructive research in the limited case of so-called “spares”– those embryos “left-over” after couples have exhausted their interest in IVF. I disagree with him.In face-to-face conversation with McCain I said not only that such research was wrong, but that it would never be limited to “spares.” I said that big biotech needed a far larger supply of research subjects than “spares” could provide. McCain asked to continue that conversation, to hear more. Now he realizes that there is no need to exploit “spare” embryos, in light of recent successes with adult cells. And so he has been telling South Carolinians over the last few days.

The best pro-life choice for president cannot be decided solely by counting up votes about straight-on life issues. If it were I would add to the list of life issues the matter of torture. Though death is a risk with perhaps few contemporary “harsh interrogation” techniques, all torture raises questions about the meaning of human dignity and the immunity of all persons against unjustified physical attack. In other words, torture is a life issue, too. Though not nearly so important as abortion, it is nonetheless important in its own way. A candidate’s stand on torture is revealing of his (or her) whole approach to moral questions. Of the remaining Republican candidates, only McCain (so far as I know) has plainly said that all torture is wrong, and that Americans simply should not do it. I agree with him.

Identifying the best presidential pro-life candidate is very largely about judges, as well as particular issues. The next president is likely to (no one can say for sure, of course) have a couple of vacancies on the Supreme Court to fill. Given the Court’s present makeup and who is likely to be replaced, these two nominations will either tip the balance against Roe, or confirm it once again for a whole generation. For if the Court revisits the question of Roe’s basic validity in, say, 2010, it will not do so again for a very long time.(The last time was Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in 1992.) McCain’s “model” of a Supreme Court Justice are — he has said — Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

I mentioned a recent South Carolina advertisement about McCain’s pro-life voting record. As good as that record is, the ad contained still more powerful evidence of his pro-life convictions. This part of the ad shows Cindy McCain walking beside a diminutive Catholic nun. Mrs. McCain is holding an infant in her arms. It is (the ad text says) “little Bridget, a baby she and John adopted in 1993 from Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Bangladesh. Bridget has been a great blessing to the McCain family.”

Indeed she has. But there is a little more to the story than is there told. For one thing, there were two babies. Mrs. McCain brought home a second infant from the same orphanage. That baby became the adopted child of the McCain’s best friends. Second, Mrs. McCain did not go to the orphanage in order to adopt. While she was touring the facility, Mother Teresa unexpectedly said to her (in so many words): “If you do not take those two babies with you, now, they could die right here. But you can save them.” Cindy McCain did.

I believe that there is a profound lesson here about what it means to be pro-life, a lesson which goes beyond the important (but obvious) fact that the McCains live by the same principles which lie behind John’s voting record. “Little Bridget” was not sought out by the McCains. She was not expected or planned for. She was an unanticipated gift whom the McCains welcomed, not because she was antecedently “wanted” by them, but because she was a baby, a unique and unrepeatable human being with a right to life because she is a human being and not because some other people’s plans include her — or don’t.

— Gerard V. Bradley is a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame.

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