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The necessity of pro-life vetting: a look at the U.S. Senate Candidate Forum

February 22, 2010

Written as a guest column for the blog, “Life of the Party” :

In recent years, the vetting process has become necessary to test the substance of political labels. The word “pro-life” has often been reduced to a check-mark on a political platform, or elevated to a badge of honor that ends all inquiry from voters. We saw this during the last presidential election cycle when John McCain wooed the conservative base by proclaiming that life begins at conception. At the time, I was among the naive, applauding McCain’s black-and-white ethics on life. What he failed to mention in that bold answer was that the right of that human to be protected, was in his mind, not absolute. McCain’s brand of pro-life was the kind that gave a pass to the destruction of embryos and made concessions to pro-aborts. As Life of the Party founder Michelle McIntyre explains,  “The Republican Party has been content with shallow labeling and symbolic measures” and “national pro-life lobbying groups have patted themselves on the back simply because the movement still exists even as, under their hand, it has stagnated.” It is no longer enough to ask the tough questions, pro-lifers must know how to ask the right questions.

On February 12th, five of the candidates running against Patty Murray were introduced before a pro-life audience at a forum co-sponsored by Life of the Party and Abortion in Washington.  There were eight known candidates actively campaigning at the time of the forum, all of whom were invited to participate. The five in attendance were

Paul Akers, Dr. Art Coday, Clint Didier (represented by campaign manager Chuck Beck), Rodney Rieger, and Craig Williams. The purpose of the forum was two-fold: to find out the true convictions of each candidate and to show them that the electorate does care about their position on abortion.
Following opening statements, each candidate was asked a series of questions by a panel consisting of three pro-life activists: Michelle McIntyre served as moderator and was joined on the panel by Ed Mohs, Fall 2009 director of Everett 40 Days for Life, and Mary Emanuel from the Silent No More Awareness Campaign and writer for the blog “Abortion in Washington.” The first half of the forum revealed little difference between the candidates on the issue of abortion. All described themselves as pro-life, all believed that life begins at conception, and all believed that there should be no exceptions for cases of rape, incest, genetic defects, or for health of the mother. (Williams and Coday, clarified their statements, saying the one exception would be to save the life of the mother, such as may be necessary in the case of rare ectopic pregnancies.) Embryonic stem cell research was also opposed by all candidates.
Substantial differences began to be revealed only after being asked what they were going to do about their convictions once elected, specifically, whether they would support legislation defining personhood at fertilization. Akers, who had previously told a story about how he and his wife counseled a young girl considering abortion, answered by saying that his primary approach would be changing hearts and minds. Legislation, he believed, was good, but it is not the most effective way to end abortion. Didier’s campaign manager, Chuck Beck, was at some disadvantage in answering the more specific questions, but knowing Didier’s strong pro-life convictions, he believed that he would likely introduce or sponsor legislation defining life as beginning at fertilization. Williams confessed that “social issues” would not be the priority once elected, explaining that the ship of government is sinking, and unless fiscal responsibility were restored, there would be no “ship” afloat to wield any power over social issues. If given the opportunity to vote for pro-life legislation, he would do so, but introducing such law would not be his priority. Dr. Coday gave the most convincing affirmative to this question, stating that he would be happy to introduce or sponsor such legislation. He explained how the right to life ought not to be a “states rights” issue, any more than the “right” to own slaves should have been left to the states. Rieger answered the question with a simple “yes”, but did not give policy specifics.
When the panel had finished asking questions, the audience was given opportunity to take part. The intensity of the evening reached a high point when audience member Doug Parris began directing customized statements and questions to each candidate. Parris asked Rieger to defend statements regarding the legality of same-sex marriage from his campaign website, and he asked Williams to justify his decision to run as a Democrat against Jay Inslee during the mid 1990’s. During Parris’ next argument directed towards Coday, Akers interrupted, asking Parris to abbreviate his comments. What followed was a brief and intense interchange between Parris and Akers, resolved when McIntyre stepped in, requesting that Parris get to his question and that Akers allow her to moderate. Shortly after this Akers left the forum. This was a brief episode in what was otherwise a relaxed and politely informative evening.
A moment of personal insight and levity came shortly after when another audience member asked for the candidate’s position on the use and regulation of hormonal birth control medications, which many believe can result in early stage abortions, through a process known as the “abortifacient effect”. What was intended as a policy question quickly became personal. Beck revealed that as a devout Catholic, he was personally opposed to all forms of contraception, and eluded to the Catholic faith of Didier as well. Williams, as a father of six, joked that he was often asked if he knew how that happened. “Yes”, he had learned to reply to inquiring minds, “and I enjoyed it”. Dr. Coday, a practicing physician, stressed the importance of protecting the legal rights of medical professionals to follow their conscience in practicing medicine. In his own practice, he does not allow the prescription of IUDs or the “morning after” pill, though he does on a case by case basis prescribe other forms of hormonal contraception.
By the end of the evening, it was clear that any one of the five men would be a vast improvement over the pro-abortion senator, Patty Murray. All of the men are new to public office, and so in absence of a track record, words and personal anecdotes do become important. Though all men attested to be pro-life, clear distinctions did emerge.

Akers frequently used certain “pro-life light” buzzwords such as the need to “enlighten” the culture and change “hearts and minds”. While this is true, when spoken by a potential senator, it suggests a reluctance to legislate change. Indeed, Akers himself explained that he did not consider legislation to be the most effective way to reduce abortions. Didier had a previous engagement and was unable to attend in person which put him at a disadvantage in directly communicating his message. However, Beck did a worthy job of representing him as a candidate with deep pro-life convictions, and to his credit, Didier was one of the few senatorial candidates in attendance this year at the March for Life gathering in Olympia on January 19th (Dr. Coday also made a showing). Rieger came across as a gregarious politician-next-door, full of clever quips and talk radio style sarcasm. On the issue of abortion, his emphasis was on proper education and parenting. While appearing passionate in his convictions, he did not communicate a cohesive vision on how he wanted to drive the issue if elected. Williams was simultaneously upfront about his beliefs, and about how social issues would not be his priority as senator. If elected, Williams would likely be a friend of pro-lifers, but not a champion of their causes. 
Of all the candidates, Dr. Coday edged himself out as the candidate who not only viewed the right to life as inalienable, but was able to communicate his vision in a way that tied in with his overall philosophy of government. The right to life, he explained, is written in the Declaration of Independence, implied in the Constitution, and disregarded by the current government. Laws must be changed on the federal level, he argued, for even if all but one of the states outlawed abortion, we would still be living in a nation where legalized abortions took place. Dr. Coday’s delivery was both confident and compassionate, and I look forward to how this ability will be used to truly change hearts and minds going forward, whether elected to office or not.
The forum did more than showcase the five men, it revealed five different versions of what it means to be pro-life. Washington voters have a unique opportunity to be involved with the process of influencing who will run against Patty Murray for the seat of U.S. Senate in 2010. Amid all the distractions of our current government failures, it is tempting to view abortion as a distraction rather than the very issue that defines the soul of our nation. As we enter into this decision, may we look for the candidate who sees abortion as more than just another “social issue”, but recognizes it as the greatest moral ailment of our society.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Farmboots permalink
    March 10, 2010 7:28 pm

    I have read a great deal about Clint Didier and our family plans on voting for him for US Senate come November. He is not a career-politician and is a hard-working farmer and small business owner who understands what Americans are going through. He is listening and will do a fine job representing THE PEOPLE of Washington State–as he should.

    Check out his game plan and where he stands on important issues at his web site at
    Eatonville Taxpayer & Small Business Owner

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