Culture

How to Win (and Lose) on the Life Issue

In his endorsement interview with the Plain Dealer, Ohio Governor John Kasich joined Democrat Ed FitzGerald, and Green Party candidate Anita Rios (who decided to run after she lost her job at an abortion clinic) to discuss issues relevant to the campaign, including abortion, with the newspaper’s editorial board.

Kasich, said to be considering a bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, says he is pro-life and has taken some steps since he became governor to regulate abortion in the state. He has closed unsafe abortion clinics, beefed up health code regulations for all abortion clinics, and directed state funding to crisis pregnancy centers. Critics complain that he has ignored the “heartbeat bill” that would ban abortions in the state once a baby’s heartbeat can be detected by ultrasound. They also say the governor hasn’t taken any other steps in the direction of actually banning abortion rather than just regulating it.

All of the political maneuvering and legislative issues aside, I think it’s important to consider how we talk about the issue of abortion, whether it’s on the campaign trail or in our in our daily lives among our friends whom we wish to convince that unborn children deserve to be protected and valued.

Earlier this year I wrote “How Republicans Should Talk About Women’s Issues for Ohio Conservative Review. This advice is not exclusive to Republicans, but applies to anyone who wants to effectively communicate the importance of the life issue:

When accused of denying women “reproductive services” we must reframe that issue to express our alarm that a baby is being denied life. While there is a certain radical segment of the population that will continue to oppose us, the tide is turning in the direction of the right to life for the unborn. A recent Quinnipiac poll found most Americans support some restrictions on abortion. A total of 55 percent want a 20-week limit on the procedure and only 23% of women believe abortion should be legal in all cases. When a candidate is asked why he wants to deny a woman the right to “control her body,” he should passionately advocate for the right of a baby to live — citing scientific facts about heartbeats and fingernails and brain waves. He should pull a 3-D ultrasound picture of his child or grandchild out of his suit pocket and ask how a compassionate, just society could tolerate destroying tiny people with little arms and legs. Refuse to accept the narrative that this is only about the rights of the woman. Unapologetically defend the personhood, and therefore the liberty, of unborn children. The truth of the humanity of the unborn is so inconvenient that many will cease asking about the issue if we insist on discussing the personhood of those babies and the tragedy of their deaths.

This should be a no-brainer for candidates who say they are pro-life. The science is settled, as they say, that those flailing arms and legs we peer at on the ultrasound monitor belong to a living human being. No sane, cognizant person can look at a 3-D ultrasound picture and say, “That’s just a blob of tissue” and deny the reality of the life contained within the mother’s womb.

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So, it’s difficult to understand why Kasich, who seems to be a reasonably intelligent man, wouldn’t be able to give a full-throated defense of life before the Plain Dealer editorial board. Here, for example, is the passionate defense Kasich gave in his State of the State speech for expanding Medicaid for those at 133% of the federal poverty level:

But in this case, extending Medicaid benefits will help us on many levels, including the positive impact this decision can have on the mentally ill, and the addicted. Some of them live under bridges, some of them live on streets, some of them are in our jails tonight. One of the sheriffs that I was with the other day told a story of a man whose life had gone really pretty perfectly. He got sick, started living in the woods. He’s now in the jail. He wraps scriptures around his fingers to ward off evil. The sheriff told me, he doesn’t belong in our jails. It’s a chance to rebuild the safety net that we’ve all wanted to since we have released people from, from these mental hospitals.

My personal faith in the lessons I learned from the Good Book, they’re like, run my life. I mean, I’m serious, they’re very important to me. Not just on Sunday, but just about every day. I got ta tell you, I can’t look at the disabled, I can’t look at the poor, I can’t look at the mentally ill, I can’t look at the addicted and think we ought to ignore them.

For those that live in the shadows of life, those who are the least among us, I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored. We can help them. And I want all of you to think about this.

This is how you persuasively talk about issues that you care about and you believe in. You make them personal. Tell stories of real people you believe are being harmed. Even those who disagree with Kasich on Medicaid expansion at least believe that he believes what he’s saying. He thinks expanding Medicaid is an issue of justice and protecting the most vulnerable in our society.

Kasich showed no such passion for protecting the unborn. During the interview with the editorial board, FitzGerald, the current Cuyahoga County executive, attacked Gov. Kasich for a provision in the Ohio budget mandating funding restrictions for rape crisis centers that provide information about abortion. FitzGerald said that Kasich has refused to answer questions about the decision.

“He dodges any real discussion about this at all. He uses bromides and cliches and doesn’t really talk about the specifics,” FitzGerald complained to the editorial board.

“You’ve never explained what problem you thought that was solving. And I hope that you don’t just fall back on your generic statements that you’re pro-life or that you have sympathy for people that have gone through sexual assault. Why was it important to have a piece of legislation that literally imposed a gag rule on rape crisis counselors?” FitzGerald asked Kasich.

“Would you like to answer that, governor?” a member of the editorial board asked.

“Do you have a question?” shot back the governor, who refused to speak to FitzGerald during the endorsement interview.

After a few more back-and-forths about whether Kasich should answer the question, the governor finally was forced to respond, but he did so with “bromides and cliches.”

“First of all, I think everybody here knows that I’m pro-life. They also know that we have Roe v. Wade. We’ve been debating this. I mean, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat, a liberal or conservative, or non-aligned,” Kasich said. “This debate has gone on for a very long time. What we’ve focused on — and what I’ve always focused on — is the issue of life. Prenatal, postnatal, early childhood, sleep for babies, trying to drive down infant mortality. Let’s focus on the life issue. Focusing on abortion…you’re…you’re pro-life or whatever…again, this issue’s gone on forever. You know, there’s no hiding the fact that, you know, that I have a pro-life position.”

FitzGerald pointed out that Kasich had not answered the question about the rape crisis counselors.

Typical of the Ohio legacy media that helped shore up Kasich’s campaign for the last two years, a member of the editorial board said, “I think he answered it okay.”

Because the War on Women was the only trick left in his bag at this point, FitzGerald persevered. “He has never…he has never…with all due respect, he has never once said why it was good public policy in the state of Ohio for a rape crisis counselor to be limited in what she can advise a victim of sexual assault. And he didn’t answer it then. He started talking about prenatal care and making sure kids get enough sleep. He will not answer this question.”

The editorial board of the Plain Dealer again tried to bail the governor out. “What I heard the governor say is that’s he’s pro-life and that he’s…”

“But why is that pro-life…he…he…he….the question that came from Henry [Gomez] was ‘What problem did it solve to put a gag rule on a rape crisis counselor?'” FitzGerald again asked.

Rios, the Green Party candidate, tried to jump in and help FitzGerald at that point. She admitted she has had an abortion and said this policy is about limiting access to abortion to poor women. “We women, we are able to make that decision,” she said.

FitzGerald continued to demand an answer. “Why is that pro-life? If a woman is pregnant because of rape, why is that pro-life? And he will not deal with any of the specifics which is why when he signed the budget bill he didn’t take any questions on it and why he will only give you platitudes when he’s asked about specifics on it. He will not tell you what problem that solved.”

Finally, after a female member of the Plain Dealer editorial board pushed him on it, Kasich added more specifics. It would have been the perfect opportunity to educate the editorial board and readers of the Plain Dealer about the inherent personhood of unborn children and their value and how a civilized society has a duty to protect them and defend their civil liberties. Kasich has shown he’s willing and able to mount a passionate defense of other policies he cares about. Instead, Kasich again balked and responded with platitudes and political gobbledy gook, devoid of both meaning and passion.

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“The voters in the state, I think, by and large know that I’m pro-life. And let me just say, what Ms. Rios was just saying, this has been a debate that has gone on since I’ve been around politics. We have Democratic women who are fervently pro-life. We have Republican women who are not. I mean, that’s just the way it is,” Kasich said. He added, “And so, what I choose to focus on, is we can debate this, you know, all day long. But at the end of the day, I respect people that have a different position than me on that. You know, they need to understand my position, and it’s just that simple. I’m pro-life. We know what the federal laws are and we have to be in compliance with them. And it’s just the way it is.”

What does that even mean? He’s saying he’s pro-life but not everyone is, so…you know…”That’s just the way it is.”

That’s how our side lost ground in the debate on the personhood of the unborn and the sanctity of life for the first quarter of a century after the Roe v. Wade decision. How even when Republicans have had control of government, despite talk of being pro-life, they’ve done little more than regulate Big Abortion. The Supreme Court issued their death sentence on the unborn and it was settled law. “That’s just the way it is.” Now will everyone please stop talking about it so we can stop all this partisan bickering and get back to figuring out how to repay our big donors with tax breaks and subsidies?

“I actually  believe in the exception of rape, incest, and the life of the mother, okay? But at the end of the day I’m going to do what I think is a pro-life, you know, looking in….being in a position of being pro-life. I don’t…there’s nothing more I can say about it. I’ve said everything there is to say about it,” Kasich concluded his pro-life speech.

“He’s never going to tell you why he did that. He’s just not going to do it,” Fitzgerald said.

“Let’s move on, Ed,” said a member of the editorial board.

It’s hard to “move on” when abortions kill a stadium full of children in Ohio every year.

Left out of this whole discussion are the babies. The stark fact that tiny lives are destroyed by abortion. “I’m pro-life” and “That’s just the way it is” are neither clever nor convincing rhetorical arguments —  they’re not going to change hearts and minds. If you’re really pro-life, you need to talk about pre-born babies like they’re real people — just as real as the mentally ill and drug-addicted individuals that Kasich talks about:

For those that live in the shadows of life, those who are the least among us, I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored. We can help them. And I want all of you to think about this.

Unborn babies deserve no less.