The list of Republican nominees has shrunk, at the time of writing, to only three serious contenders. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich have all run very different campaigns, but there are two significant similarities between all candidates. Firstly, all three claim to be “pro-life.” Secondly, none of them actually are.
Pro-life optics are unquestionably en vogue in the Republican primary, particularly around abortion. To this end, all three aggressively portray themselves as opponents of abortion at every opportunity. They have repeatedly called for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, increased regulations on abortion clinics and other legal limitations on abortion. But one issue does not constitute a platform, let alone an ethos as wide-reaching as “pro-life.” A pro-life individual respects the dignity of life in all humans, not just fetuses, and on nearly every other issue, the Republican candidates have displayed contempt and disrespect for human life, in direct contrast to their “pro-life” messaging.
For example, all three support the death penalty. Support for the death penalty, as one could surmise from the name, is hardly a pro-life position. Nevertheless, according to The New York Times’ election blog, Donald Trump says he is a “big believer” in the death penalty. Kasich believes “families want closure when they see justice done,” and apparently will kill for that closure. Cruz, the worst of the lot, perversely tries to make his pro-death stance seem virtuous: “I believe the death penalty is a recognition of the preciousness of human life that for the most egregious crimes, the ultimate punishment should apply.”
In reality, though, there is nothing pro-life about being pro-death penalty. The doctrine of the death penalty is that some people’s lives are so meaningless that it is morally acceptable to forcibly end them, even when the person is already under the power of the state and held in prison. Such a view is grossly incompatible with the pro-life ethos.
The Republican candidates have also ignored many pro-life issues. None have mentioned euthanasia on the campaign trail. Nor have any addressed America’s mental health problems, especially its overdose and suicide epidemics, except when using mental health as a scapegoat for gun control. None have discussed the health care problems the country faces. These issues simply do not matter to the Republican candidates. This avoidance in and of itself is no crime, and while I find these issues extremely important, I know some people prioritize other issues. However, it is extremely disingenuous to ignore these issues entirely and to still claim one is “pro-life.”
Republicans have also opposed many changes to healthcare and social policy in America that could save millions of lives. Even while opposing abortion, they have gone after health care legislation that protects expecting mothers and newborns, and threatened programs like SNAP (food stamps) and WIC (the Women, Infants and Children feeding program) that provide food to American families.
On issues that are less exlicitly pro-life, the Republicans have been more open about their disdain for human life. All three have expressed support for the Iraq War and for future violent military actions in the Middle East that will unquestionably lead to significant and avoidable loss of life. While one might (easily) argue that ending ISIL could save lives, the Republicans have seldom made this argument. Instead, they encourage unrealistically aggressive bombing campaigns and “boots on the ground” to fight ISIL, with little regard for human cost. Even in the language they use, the candidates focus on “revenge” and “righteous wrath” rather than the concern for the lives of the civilians living under the regime of ISIL. Cruz has even called for America to “carpet bomb” ISIL.
The use of overwhelming force, rather than the surgical remote strikes favored by Obama, could cause thousands of civilian casualties. Carpet-bombing may possess significant military utility, but the practice ought to be abhorrent to anyone who has any respect for the dignity of human life. Calls for unrestrained warfare and large-scale bombing campaigns are incompatible with the pro-life ethos, and by espousing such ideas, the candidates demonstrate a troubling apathy towards human life.
For all the “pro-life” rhetoric the Republican candidates offer up, their positions on several major issues clearly demonstrate a disregard for human dignity. They and many other Republicans fail to understand that the pro-life label does not revolve around a single issue. To be pro-life, one has to support the dignity of the human person for their entire life, from conception to tombstone. Cruz, Kasich and Trump may care about people during the first few months of life, but after birth their interest seems to decline precipitously. What they miss is that to be “pro-life” is not defined by opposition to abortion, but by respect for the inherent dignity of human life.
The pro-life platform is founded on the idea that every human life matters because of its inherent dignity. A pro-lifer should oppose government policies that endanger the dignity of the person, whether through oppressive laws or violence, while supporting those that champion life. A true pro-life candidate would stand up and say that this country fights too many bloody wars, loses too many children to violence, too many teenagers to suicide and drug abuse and too many adults to poor health care. Any candidate who promises to stop these tragedies will have my vote in a heartbeat.