The Corner

Thompson and Life, Ctd.

I thought my flip-flop article would draw outraged emails from some Giuliani supporters, but it hasn’t so far. Instead it has been Romney and Thompson supporters who have cried foul, which probably tells us something about NRO readers’ tendencies in this primary.

In particular, my comments about Thompson’s past and present on abortion have generated several emails. Rather than respond to them one-by-one, I’ll respond here to the points they made.

First, I should clarify two points that have caused confusion. I’m not criticizing Thompson for having been pro-choice in the mid-1990s: I welcome converts to the pro-life cause. Nor am I criticizing him for opposing a constitutional amendment to ban abortion today: I think you can be a pro-lifer in good standing while taking the federalist line that Thompson takes. I’m not a great enthusiast for an amendment myself. I figure that if the cause had the kind of overwhelming, geographically dispersed support that would be required to pass an amendment, it would be unnecessary to pass it.

Some readers object that it is an unduly narrow definition of “pro-life” that denies the label to someone (such as the Thompson of the mid-’90s) merely for saying that he does not think abortion should generally be banned. And it is true that a person who favors keeping abortion legal can be an ally of pro-lifers in many, many battles, as Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is and the late Senator Paul Coverdell was. But the basic debate over abortion has always been whether it should generally be legal or generally be prohibited. People who want it to stay legal are called pro-choicers. That’s what Coverdell and Hutchison were, and it’s what Thompson was. If Thompson still thinks that states should keep abortion legal, it’s what he still is.

If anyone has a statement from him saying, for example, that unborn children should be protected in law from the moment of their conception—the sort of thing that President Bush has said, and that Ronald Reagan and Bush’s father and Bob Dole and Steve Forbes and every other pro-life figure has said, I’d love to see it.

As for those people who say that “people like me,” by denying “purity” on this issue, are dooming the GOP, I’d say: Calm down. The Republican party has won many national elections running candidates who took the pro-life view, and the country has moved further in a pro-life direction in the last 15 years. There is next to no evidence that the party’s opposition to abortion, as opposed to its opposition to drug re-importation or its support of the Iraq war, has caused its recent decline.

I would have no reservations about Thompson’s abortion position or his forthrightness in setting it out if he said something like the following: “I have always considered abortion a terrible thing, and I have always considered Roe v. Wade a mistake. State governments should be able to set their own abortion policies, whether we like those policies or not. But I wasn’t sure how I would vote if the issue were returned to the states. I have never wanted to see women thrown in jail for seeking abortions, and I still don’t. Pro-lifers don’t, either. But I have come to think it is important that we move toward a point where unborn children are welcomed in life and protected in law.” I’d only advise him to say it if he believes it, which I hope he does.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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