|Photo by Douglas Burns |
Sometimes they bring baby dolls as props. Other
times they raise signs with depictions of children
aborted late term. They fund billboards outside
of cities in western Iowa, telling us every
Representatives from the Family Research Council,
National Organization for Marriage and pro-life
lobby ride “values buses” and hit towns before
events like the Iowa Straw Poll.
Some anti-abortion activists even affix a Holocaust
analogy to abortion in America.
Yes, yes, Mr. Carville, it is the economy, stupid.
But a separating issue in the Iowa Caucuses
remains there for the taking: anti-abortion.
It is a determinative factor for many social
conservatives who will brave cold Sundays to
line highways in Iowa, joining mittened hands
in “life chains,” putting the face of abortion
before motorists. The passion is there.
The GOP presidential candidate who can capture
the trust, the fire, the sure votes of a significant
portion of the anti-abortion movement can gain
3 or 5 percentage points, maybe a little more,
in the Iowa Caucuses. With a four-way race at
the top in Iowa now — Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul,
Herman Cain and Mitt Romney — that could be
a difference maker.
And right now Newt Gingrich is best positioned
to seize the anti-abortion support. He’s adopted
and can offer compelling testimony about options
other than the termination of an unwanted baby.
Adopted kids talking about abortion are like
Vietnam veterans talking about war: they have
more credibility — especially those born in
a pre-Roe v. Wade United States.
“I come out of a background where my father
was adopted, and I was adopted,” Gingrich said
in an interview with me a few weeks ago. “We
have a very deep sense that this culture has
made it all too easy to end a life than to find
a way to encourage a life.”
Meanwhile, Cain equivocates on abortion, seeming
to be at once for a woman’s right to choose
and the criminalization of abortion as if he’s
living in what Steve Jobs’ biographer Walter
Isaacson might call a “reality distortion field.”
Ron Paul’s eccentric libertarianism makes him
a suspect carrier of the anti-abortion mantle.
After all, a small government that stays out
of our bedrooms can’t be counted on to corral
the aborters and their enabling physicians.
Stylistically, Paul speaks dispassionately about
abortion, as if he’s talking about the Federal
Reserve or the gold standard. He comes from
a generation in which abortion was something
about which polite society looked the other
way, which clearly makes it hard for Paul to
summon the words to make one believe he can
get past clinical speak and see the outcome
of current American law as dead babies, not
And then there’s Mitt Romney. One gets the impression
that if Romney, a political bird that only seems
to take flight in the prevailing winds of public
sentiment, saw a poll showing 61 percent support
for a woman’s right to choose, he may very well
scrub his current narrative, don scrubs and
perform an abortion in public himself.
Which leaves Newt Gingrich.
His attacks on Planned Parenthood resonate more
than the anti-abortion volleys of other GOP
contenders. After all, Gingrich could have been
“planned” out of his life before it started
outside his biological mother’s womb. Additionally,
no one doubts the former U.S. House speaker’s
knowledge of the levers of funding and flow
of bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. You sense
that if Gingrich truly wanted to kill Planned
Parenthood, he’d get the job done, or make one
helluva show trying.
In the interview, Gingrich said he wants to
take federal money away from Planned Parenthood
and funnel it into an adoption-promotion program.
“When you realize at Planned Parenthood you
are 340 times more likely to have abortion than
you are to have a child adopted, it’s gotta
be seen as something fundamentally wrong with
that imbalance,” Gingrich said.
On the campaign trail in rural Iowa, Gingrich,
a convert to Catholicism, should use this line
more, and unabashedly discuss his own history
as an adopted kid.
Gingrich declined in the interview to specify
what he believes the penalties should be for
doctors who perform abortions and women who
obtain them. But it’s clear he’s thought about
it, which is more than one can say for most
politicians, from Tim Pawlenty to Kim Reynolds.
“I don’t know at the present, but I do know
that the country wants to move in the direction
of recognizing life and recognizing that life
begins at conception or pretty close to conception,”
Gingrich said. “I think that we have to have
that conversation as a country.”
Gingrich said he was not prepared today to set
penalties for abortions.
The early stages of an anti-abortion strategy,
Gingrich said, should be to outlaw late-term
procedures and create a climate in which abortion
is not seen as the best solution.
Gingrich has also shown a willingness to spend
political capital, court PR catastrophes, in
the name of ideological ends.
Take for instance Gingrich’s 1994 call for the
development of “children’s homes” (originally
referred to in Republican welfare-reform legislation
as “orphanages”) to remove children from certain
Gingrich told me he was talking about a narrow
section of the population, drug-addicted parents,
and that he should have developed the argument
with different language.
“What I should have said at the time is, ‘Maybe
we need prep schools for the poor,’” he said.
Now that he is terming President Obama the “food
stamp president,” is it time to resurrect the
mid-1990s orphanages idea to yank kids from
There are places where young people are at real
risk from parents with addiction issues, Gingrich
“I challenge you to go to any big city in the
country and talk to the public-health people
about the tragedies that show up on their doorstep,
and then you tell me what you would do to help
those children,” Gingrich said. CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa
newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily
Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.