Fundamentally at odds

February 12, 1991

The current issue of the National Right to Life News, which proclaims itself the "official publication" of the anti-abortion movement, carries as its lead story an account of a recent anti-abortion rally in Washington at which President Bush, by telephone hookup, warmly commended the group and repeated his unflagging support of the movement. What the story does not say, however, is that in reality there is a fundamental difference between Bush's position and the extreme position taken by the National Right to Life Committee.

Strict right-to-lifers would permit abortions only in those cases where the mother's life was demonstrably in danger -- say, in cases of tubular pregnancy where there is no possibility of live birth but grave danger to the woman's life. Bush, on the other hand, would permit abortions in cases of rape, and that difference is profound -- and ultimately irreconcilable.

True right-to-lifers believe that human life comes into being at the moment of conception. From that strict point of view, there is no moral distinction between an abortion the day after conception or the day before delivery. Further, there is no moral distinction which would permit an abortion because of the manner in which the conception took place. It's "innocent human life," no matter the stage of development. This of course is an extreme position which is rejected by the overwhelming majority of Americans, but at least you have to give the right-to-lifers credit for consistency in their beliefs.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Bush. Like most Americans, he would permit an abortion in the case of pregnancies forced upon innocent women by a rapist. But in taking the position that abortions should be allowed in cases of rape, Bush traps himself in an irreconcilable dilemma. Neither he nor anyone else would ever recommend that the existing child of a rapist be put to death for its father's crime. Yet, in the extremist view of the right-to-life people, there is not one whit of difference between a conceived fetus and an existing child. After all, they would argue, the "innocent unborn child" didn't ask to be conceived by rape; one act of violence does not justify another.

Bush is trying to have it both ways: He wants to sound like a "pro-life" purist when addressing their rallies, while at the same time allowing the taking "of an innocent unborn child" under some circumstances. This means, in effect, that he is "pro-choice" when it comes to rape. Yet who is George Bush to say abortion is OK in rape cases, but not in cases when the child might be deformed or retarded? Or when the child might be doomed to a life of squalor and poverty? Or when the child simply is not wanted -- as is almost always the case with rape-conceived children?

So hypocrisy abounds. It is hypocritical for the right-to-life people to pass George Bush off as one of theirs. It is even more hypocritical of Bush to pass himself off as a right-to-lifer when in fact he is "pro-choice," albeit to a limited degree.

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