Recently, Rand Paul said he was 100% pro-life, but believe in thousands of exceptions. They were words which confused and worried many pro-lifers. A statement like this by a leading presidential candidate is worth taking time to analyze.
In 2008 when Ron Paul ran for president, many conservatives had to examine libertarianism and what it meant. One thing that became very clear is that libertarianism is built on a very different philosophical foundation.
One of the greatest advances in political theory of the era of America’s founding was the idea that our rights come from God. In essence laws and rights are moral, and find their basis in a transcendent moral order. Thomas Jefferson made this abundantly clear in the Declaration of Independence when he wrote:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
This is a concept that Ken Cuccinelli eloquently articulated last week at CPAC. After citing the same portion of the Declaration of Independence, he stated.
Why are government’s instituted? To secure the rights that God has bestowed on us. No more. No less.
This concept is at the heart of conservatism. Conservatives throughout history have believed in the importance of a transcendent moral order. Recently that has been articulated by thinkers like Edmund Burke, T.S. Eliot, Richard Weaver, and Russell Kirk.
Traditionally libertarianism has rejected this idea. Libertarianism is built on the premise that you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm someone else. Nowhere was this more clearly seen than in the Supreme Court’s 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas which dealt with homosexuality. Here the libertarian think tank Cato teamed up with other organizations to get the Supreme Court to throw out state laws regarding homosexuality, and overturn the recent Supreme Court decision, Bowers v. Hardwick.
While criminalizing homosexuality is probably a bit outdated, the reasoning Cato encouraged the Supreme Court to use to reverse itself was horrendous. “Morality is not a basis for law.”
As Scalia pointed out in his dissent, this reasoning throws the door open to legalizing a number of other sexual practices that are currently banned.
State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding.
I would also add that the reasoning in Texas v. Lawrence also established the basis for the effort to legalize pedophilia, or as some would say, “destigmatize adult-child love.”
While I hope libertarian thought can develop to somehow include a strong defense for traditional values, it is this history that makes conservatives very suspicious of libertarians on social issues.
“Willie, why bring up political theory and court cases in an article about Rand Paul’s stance on the life issue?” Because it is important to understand the foundations of the two philosophies, particularly when discussing an area of politics where they can lead to very different conclusions.
For Ron Paul, his belief in the importance of a limited government and state’s rights were trumped when it came to the issue of life. He claimed he was pro-life, but believed it was an issue that should be left to the states. This is despite the fact that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution states “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The amendment ends by giving congress power to enforce the amendment through appropriate legislation. One would think this would give a constitutional pro-lifer the clear ability to push the federal government to protect the unborn. For many pro-lifers, this is the constitutional basis, however, it is one Ron Paul rejects.
Rand Paul has been much more outspokenly pro-life than his father. He spoke at the March for Life, gave an impressive speech at the Values Voters Summit, and recently introduced the Life at Conception Act.
It was when introducing this act, that he gave some very confusing statements about abortion. The interview is below, and the full article is entitled “Rand Paul Isn’t 100% Pro-Life Anymore,” which traces Rand Paul’s pro-life record.
While I applaud Rand Paul’s efforts to protect life, this interview is confusing at best. Statements about the existence of thousands of exceptions, the place of a family making a private decision, and even the possibility of early term abortions are alarming to conservatives who have been fighting for the right to life for years. Maybe Rand Paul was just referring to thousands of situations where a woman’s health was in danger. Maybe… It is a possibility, but one that makes little sense. There have traditionally been three exceptions talked about for abortion: rape, incest, and life of the mother. The idea of thousands of “exceptions” is ridiculous because few people could name one hundred possible exceptions. The idea of thousands of “situations” only makes sense if Rand Paul believes in a “health of the mother” exception that is so big you could drive a train through. If he believes in a “life of the mother” exception, there are really only a few “situations” where a mother’s life is at risk which may result in a few thousand cases a year.
I have a lot of appreciation for Rand Paul. I think he has pushed the party in a much more liberty minded direction. He is also clearly willing to fight aggressively for what he believes in. Unlike his father, he is much saner, and is a bridge builder. In a lot of respects, we need someone like that in the White House.
However, Rand Paul has a lot of work to do to woo cynical pro-lifers, and this hurt him. In 2008 in Virginia, pro-lifers lead the way in almost defeating Jim Gilmore in the U.S. Senate nomination contest because he wasn’t ideologically pure on the life issue. We will not embrace someone we aren’t sure about. Pro-lifers have been burned by politicians time and again, and need a politician to prove himself before they will embrace him.
In light of these comments, I would like to see Rand Paul be very explicit about where he stands on the life question. As someone new to the pro-life movement he needs to prove himself. Does he believe in a “health of the mother” exception, “life of the mother” exception, or any other exception? What about early abortions should be private between a patient and doctor? Rand Paul also has a clear grasp for constitutional law as he demonstrated during his filibuster. Another important question is does he agree with Justice Stevens dissent in Bowers v Hardwick which was cited by the majority in Lawrence v. Texas to rule out morality as a basis for laws?
One way Rand Paul could establish his pro-life views is by having an in-person in-depth interview with prolife stalwarts like the leaders of Americans United for Life, Susan B. Anthony’s List, Tony Perkins, Penny Nance, Wendy Wright, and Mike Farris, and let them ask him hard questions. If he wants to be a pro-life leader he needs to learn to think and talk like a pro-life leader. Sitting down with people who have been in the fight for decades would help him understand the issue, learn to communicate about it better, and enable them to see where he really stands on the issue.
It will be interesting to see what Rand Paul continues to say and do about the pro-life issue in the coming years. Like I said, I have a lot of respect for him. I’ve been impressed, and in some respects he may be the type of bold fighter we need. However, his recent comments are definitely concerning, and I need to see him do more than just explain them away.