Elections

In Indiana, Donnelly Set an Abortion Trap for Braun

Sen. Joe Donnelly (center) speaks during a debate with Mike Braun (right) and Lucy Brenton in Westville, Ind., October 8, 2018. (Darron Cummings/Pool via Reuters)
The Democratic senator tried to paint his GOP challenger as more ‘extreme’ than Richard Murdock.

A genuinely pro-life person would not cast a fellow pro-lifer as an extremist. And he most certainly wouldn’t do so using a sound bite perfected by abortion activists. Yet that is exactly what embattled Democratic Indiana senator Joe Donnelly did last week in a debate with Republican challenger Mike Braun.

When Donnelly squared off against Braun in the first of two planned debates, with the two neck-and-neck in the polls, he placed political expedience over his professed pro-life values. Donnelly attempted to reset the abortion trap with which he ensnared his Republican opponent of six years ago, Richard Mourdock.

Mourdock, the tea-party candidate who handily defeated long-time Indiana senator Richard Lugar in the Republican primary, appeared poised in 2012 to take his conservative message to Washington. But everything changed during a debate between Donnelly and Mourdock when, in explaining his opposition to abortion in cases of rape, Mourdock stated: “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life beings in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”

Notwithstanding Donnelly’s professed Catholic faith, he twisted Mourdock’s defense of the innocent human life conceived in rape into a defense of rape itself. “The God I believe in and the God I know most Hoosiers believe in, does not intend for rape to happen — ever,” Donnelly said, adding, “What Mr. Mourdock said is shocking, and it is stunning that he would be so disrespectful to survivors of rape.”

Pro-life activists were aghast at Donnelly’s shameful tactic. Marjorie Dannenfelser, then the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, criticized Donnelly in a statement, writing:

Richard Mourdock said that life is always a gift from God, and we couldn’t agree more. To report his statement as an endorsement of rape is either willfully ignorant or malicious.

Yet, Donnelly’s ploy worked, and he went on to defeat Mourdock in the general election, turning Lugar’s red seat blue for the first time in more than 35 years.

With Donnelly’s current opponent gaining steam and narrowing the gap to two percentage points, the Indiana senator hoped to re-create the Mourdock moment in his debate with Braun. “I was on a stage six years ago where they said Richard Mourdock was extreme,” Donnelly said referring to Mourdock’s comments concerning rape. “But Mike is actually more extreme because he thinks he should be in the middle of a decision for your wife or your daughter when their life is at stake.”

Of course, abortion activists make a similar argument to justify abortion on demand, painting pro-life politicians as wanting to interject themselves into a decision between a woman and her doctor. Donnelly’s branding Braun an extremist for opposing abortion in all cases is also rather rich given that the Catholic Church — of which Donnelly is a member — teaches that abortion is wrong under all circumstances.

Then there’s the true abortion extremism of Donnelly’s Democratic party and his support of the abortion-on-demand leaders. Before Donnelly made his 2013 leap to the Senate, the Hoosier representative voted in 2007 and in 2009 for the pro-abortion Nancy Pelosi to serve as speaker of the house. Donnelly would later knuckle under pressure from Pelosi and cast a deciding vote in the House of Representatives for Obamacare, which provides federal funding for abortion-inducing drugs and surgical abortions.

Donnelly also hasn’t called out his current Senate colleagues for their extreme views on abortion — and few could be more extreme than Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Schumer has voted no on everything from a partial-birth abortion ban to criminalizing the harming of a fetus during the commission of another crime. And notwithstanding Schumer’s solidly pro-abortion voting history, Donnelly happily enlists Schumer to stir up campaign donations on his behalf.

Braun sees the duplicity, as do pro-life Hoosiers, which is why the Republican challenger wasn’t baited into providing Donnelly the Murdock moment the senator was trying to engineer. Braun instead countered, “You can’t have it both ways, senator, and I’m the one being endorsed by the organizations where they know where your heart is.”

A man whose heart holds firm in the belief of the sanctity of life and who genuinely desires to protect human beings in utero doesn’t attack a fellow pro-lifer for his views on abortion.

But then again, a solidly pro-life senator also wouldn’t join forces with liberal colleagues who resorted to character assassination in an attempt to block Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court out of fear that the originalist jurist would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Yet, not only did Donnelly vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but he did so while tacitly acknowledging that the last-minute sexual-assault allegations lodged against Kavanaugh were bunk: Connelly voted against Kavanaugh not because of the allegations, he conceded, but because of the judge’s supposed hot temper.

Desperation does tell. And let’s hope that Hoosiers will soon tell Donnelly exactly what they think of such tactics.

Margot Cleveland is a lawyer, CPA, stay-at-home mom, and former full-time faculty member and current adjunct professor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame.

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