You know a Republican primary is approaching when, like leaves falling in the wind, candidates drop nuanced positions on reproductive rights and lie prostrate before blustery anti-choice absolutists.
That's the case in Texas, where Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison seeks to return home to redecorate the governor's mansion. Thematically, to that end she has air-brushed from her political portrait a somewhat gutsy and moderate voting record on abortion rights.
The senator's two-syllable spiel now is that she is "pro-life." Next question. Pressed, she'll say the National Abortion Rights Action League gives her a next-to-rock-bottom ratings on related votes in the Senate. Next question.
In Colorado, the presumptive front-runner among Republicans, former Congressman Scott McInnis, once the national chairman of of Republicans for Choice, says now that he is simply "pro-life." No nuance. Next question.
No shadings of gray, either, from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose flexings of moral certainty cause hard-right groups like Eagle Forum to swoon.
Pro-life, eh? It's amazing to hear supposedly thoughtful people dismiss an issue of such consequence with one prefix, one hyphen, and one word. We shouldn't let them get away with it. "Pro-life" is one of the emptiest propaganda terms of modern times. Sorry, folks, but no candidate who uses that term to sum up what he or she stands for should be permitted a "next question" without answering a few more.
Whether you support abortion rights, or want the procedure banned, or want something in between, you should demand more from a policy maker than an empty and basically gutless phrase.
To that end, I've devised a short quiz to test the innards of those who seek to end questions by saying, "I'm pro-life."
Do you oppose abortions (a) in all circumstances, period; (b) except in cases of medical necessity; (c) except in cases of rape and incest; (d) except in cases of medical necessity, as well as of rape and incest?
If you answer (a), you are dismissed further from the discussion, because you are beyond discussion, so fixated on prenatal life that you have rationalized away the life of the woman.
If you would allow abortions only in cases of medical necessity, how do you propose that government enforce the law? You should know that a physician has only probabilities as guides when determining if a woman's life is gravely endangered by gestating to term. What government agency would you create to guarantee that each procedure met the criteria?
Also, we must presume that inquests would be required for each (alleged) miscarriage, which could of course have been physician-caused. Please suggest an agency for that.
If you would ban abortion except in cases of medical necessity, rape and incest, how would you enforce the latter exceptions?
For those who would grant such exceptions, but who claim the "pro-life" tag: How would you sculpt a law so that a rape or incest victim didn't relive her horrors on the delivery room floor? Would you require her to press charges and identify the assailant? Could we try the assailant in sufficient time to allow a safe abortion for the victim? The clock ticks. The abdomen swells.
Really, candidates. I want to hear you explain these matters. As for those blithe absolutists, like Gov. Perry: You would require a rape victim to carry the rapist's child. Really? So easy for you to say.
I'll give rhetorical credit to the absolutists when they claim the term "pro-life," except they have no idea, and don't want to know, how enforcing their morals would cause suffering, despair, and acts of desparation.
On said subject: No contradiction is more visually impaired than "parental consent" laws that disregard the fact that when a teen gets pregnant, she is the parent.
So. Pro-life? What do you mean? Unless you explain what you mean, and how exactly you would write law to enforce what you mean, you trivialize that which you seek to sanctify. That would be life.
John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.