Shepard's stand

September 24, 1990

Once Governor Schaefer declared his position on abortion, Republican candidate William S. Shepard lost no time in re-emphasizing his own position on the nettlesome subject -- a position that significantly differs from Schaefer's.

Shepard considers himself "pro-life" because he believes that abortions should be allowed only when the life of the mother is endangered, when the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape, and in cases where the fetus shows signs of gross deformity.

That is essentially the position which President Bush holds, and we respect the position as a conscientious belief. (We respect it insofar as Shepard is concerned; it is harder to respect Bush's position in view of the fact that he executed a complete turnabout from a traditional New England Planned-Parenthood Republican to an anti-abortionist after he saw which way the political winds were blowing.)

Even so, close analysis shows that there is a subtle contradiction in Shepard's position which is every bit as morally ambiguous as Schaefer's anguished attempt to reconcile the private-public dichotomy on the abortion issue.

Shepard says he would permit abortion in cases of rape. But if you accept the anti-abortion position in toto -- that is, if you believe that a fetus from the moment of conception is "innocent human life" -- then how can you possibly allow the rape exception? After all, the rape-conceived fetus which is being "killed" (in the "pro-life view") is surely no less an "innocent human life" than the fetus which was conceived in a consensual act of love. If you genuinely hold the "innocent human life" belief, then it follows that aborting a fetus conceived in rape makes no more sense than executing a born child of a rapist for his father's crime. And in fact the most uncompromising anti-abortionists are indeed consistent in objecting to abortions for rape victims.

The fact that Shepard, a man of decent and moderate instincts, would allow abortions for rape victims indicates that he believes that abortion is permissible under some circumstances. So the difference between his position and Schaefer's is merely a matter of what circumstances permit an abortion.

These disparate yet similar positions illustrate once more that abortion is a matter which simply must be taken out of the realm of political debate and left exclusively to the realm of personal moral choice. That is what Roe vs. Wade has done, and increasingly it appears there is no better workable alternative.


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