Republican presidential primary debates offered pro-lifers another look at how potential leaders of the free world would tackle the defining human rights atrocity of our age.
Right at the start of the early debate, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum introduced himself with an appeal to life: “Hi, I’m Rick Santorum. Some of you may know me, because I led the fight to end partial-birth abortion.”
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal also went head to head with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham over stopping taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood. The former excoriated the Republican Congress, noting, “we have got the majority; what good has it done us” if “they’re not even willing to fight to defund Planned Parenthood”?
He even went so far as to declare that “if we can’t stand for innocent human life after these barbaric videos, it is time to be done with the Republican Party” and “start over with a new one that’s at least conservative.”
Graham, while claiming to be “as offended by these videos as you are” and promising that as President he wouldn’t give Planned Parenthood a penny, insisted that simply not giving Barack Obama a penny for them was something “I know we can’t do,” because Obama wouldn’t sign it and a shutdown would just “tank our ability to win” the White House.
Never mind that it didn’t in 2014 and heaven forbid we even try to bring our case to the voters to decide. Graham even huffed that, “I am really sick of hearing” this shutdown talk. Yeah, Lindsey, tell the people you want to vote for you how much it annoys you when they expect you to stand on principle. That ought to work.
Later, the primetime debate gave abortion even more focus, with most of the candidates being asked about ending taxpayer funding for the abortion giant. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush deflected with a rundown of his pro-life record and a solid talk about reinterpreting Title X as rendering Planned Parenthood ineligible for any tax money.
It was good, but not an answer to what Republicans should do now (later on, Bush also scored points by pointing out that “there are 13,000 community-based organizations that provide health services to women,” rendering Planned Parenthood irrelevant to women’s health).
Ohio Governor John Kasich reiterated his opposition to a shutdown, concluding with a prediction that “the American people are gonna shake their heads and say, “what’s the story with these Republicans?” You can read how impressed we were with Kasich’s approach here.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, however, was having none of that. After reiterating that Planned Parenthood was a “horrifying” and “ongoing criminal enterprise,” he blasted GOP leadership for “preemptively surrendering to Barack Obama and saying, ‘we’ll give in because Obama threatens a veto.'” Say what you want about him, Cruz lamented, but at least “Obama’s committed to his principles.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina won a lot of applause with some of the most powerful and passionate pro-life statements. Christie thundered:
Let’s ask Hillary Clinton. She believes in the systematic murder of children in the womb to preserve their body parts, Dana, in a way that maximizes their value for sale for profit. It is disgusting, and the American people need to hear it.
Fiorina, meanwhile, got even bigger pro-life attention with strikingly emotional words:
As regards to Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, it’s heart beating, it’s legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up in and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.
These were both arguably the two most powerful pro-life moments of the night, making it even more lamentable that neither of them explicitly answered whether they’d be willing to withhold Planned Parenthood from the continuing resolution, even if Obama chose to shut down the government in response.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker repeated his only-partly-true claim to have defunded Planned Parenthood in his state, and didn’t explicitly state how far he’d be willing to go after Obama’s veto, but he deserves credit for highlighting another neglected aspect of the issue—the filibuster:
I think the bigger issue here is we should be able to do this nationally, and this is precisely why so many Republicans are upset with Washington. They see the House and they see the Senate and they say why can’t we pass this. Why can’t we defund Planned — put it in a spending bill.
Forget about the 60-vote rule, there’s no reason — and the Constitution doesn’t call for 60 votes. Pass it with 51 votes, put it on the desk of the president and go forward and actually make a point.
Finally, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee made sure to give the right to life a shout-out in his closing remarks:
At the end of my presidency I would like to believe that […] life would be really deemed precious. Abortion would be no more. It would be as much of a scourge in our past as slavery is.
Well said. Simple, stern, and somber.
These debates didn’t cover as broad a range of the issue’s aspects as the first round, but the upside to the narrower focus on Planned Parenthood funding was that it more directly compared the strength and weakness of the candidates’ specific approaches and how well they understood the finer detail—giving pro-life voters plenty more to chew on as they evaluate whom best channels their values.