Pro-lifers are split on the question of abortions in the case of rape and incest. Some, like Senator Rubio, think the law should ideally protect unborn children however they were conceived, since their right to life does not depend on those circumstances. But most pro-lifers have been willing to support candidates who do not go that far, in the interest of providing protection for unborn children in the cases that make up the vast majority of abortions. (That’s the ground on which Rubio himself is willing to support legislation that includes exceptions for abortions in the case of rape.)
In tonight’s debate, Sen. Rubio reiterated his position: for protecting unborn children regardless of how they were conceived. He also chided the media for obsessing about Republicans’ opposition to abortion while giving a pass to Democratic extremism in support of it. I wish he had found a way to make another point: Democratic support for partial-birth abortion, late-term abortion, and taxpayer-funded abortion is more relevant to the practical policy debate than Republican opposition to abortion in the case of rape. Some states provide Medicaid funding for elective abortions. Replacing one of the Republican appointees on the Supreme Court would likely mean that partial-birth abortion is treated as a constitutional right. Abortion is going to be legal in the case of rape, on the other hand, even if Rubio makes it through eight years as president.
Gov. Bush reiterated his support for exceptions in the case of rape, noting that those exceptions make his position more politically viable than Rubio’s–an accurate assessment, though badly put (he said he was in a “sweet spot”). Gov. Christie not only reiterated his support for the exception, but attempted to make an argument for it beyond its political value–and there I think he fell into a trap. Critics are focusing on his claim that abortion in such cases is somehow a kind of self-defense. What’s worse, I think, is that he suggested that abortion should be allowed in the case of rape because the women are blameless: as though the reason for wanting to prohibit abortion generally is that women who get pregnant as a result of consensual sex should be punished. Which is the way Barack Obama looks at the issue (remember when he said that he didn’t want his daughters “punished with a baby” if they made a mistake?). I don’t think that’s going to go over well with people nearly anywhere on the spectrum of public opinion on abortion.