By Karen Cross, Political Director
Editor’s note. This appeared yesterday in the September issue of National Right to Life News, the “pro-life newspaper of record. Please share the entire 40-page edition with your family and friends.
The 2024 presidential race is officially underway! We have seen one Republican Primary debate and the next one is scheduled for Wednesday, September 27th, less than a month away. On the other side of the aisle, it appears the Democratic Party will not hold any primary debates despite the wishes of its rank-and-file members. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll found eight in ten Democrats want their party to hold primary debates. (That included 72% of those who support President Biden for a second term.)
What is crystal clear even at this early stage are the fundamental differences between the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates on the issue of abortion.
Each of the GOP candidates we saw on the debate stage (as well as former President Trump who did not attend the debate) provide a stark contrast to the Biden-Harris ticket on the issue of abortion. While the GOP candidates may have differences on policy specifics, each one opposes the extreme Biden-Harris abortion agenda, which calls for a nationwide policy allowing unlimited abortions for any reason, even late in pregnancy, and the use of your tax dollars to pay for abortions. As National Right to Life President Carol Tobias noted in NRLC’s press release following the debate, “The Biden-Harris Administration and the Democratic Party have yet to hear of an abortion they would not support.”
In 2024, a top goal for the pro-life movement must be the election of a pro-life president as well as pro-life majorities in the House and Senate. To achieve this, we must do all we can to register pro-life voters, educate those in our circles about where the candidates stand, encourage pastors and religious leaders to address the abortion issue from the pulpit, volunteer with campaigns in our area, and more. Just as important, what we do during elections must not hinder the success of pro-life candidates by repeating the mistakes of past cycles.
The following are common ways that we as pro-life advocates can unintentionally cause a pro-life candidate to lose an election and contribute to a pro-abortion victory. Heading into the 2024 election cycle, let us to be mindful to avoid these pitfalls. Here’s what you should NOT do:
1. Fall in love with your candidate
We encourage pro-life advocates to get involved in campaigns. Your active participation and volunteer activities can help a pro-life candidate build a strong campaign. It also puts you in a position to build and strengthen a relationship if the candidate wins. Sometimes, pro-life advocates get so excited about their candidate that if they lose to another pro-life candidate (especially in a primary), they can become like the child who lost a game – he takes his toys and goes home. In this scenario, some refuse to support the pro-life candidate who won the primary. They decline to volunteer with the campaign and will not work to get others to vote for that candidate. Pro-life candidates need the active support of all pro-lifers and, all too often, without that full support, a pro-abortion candidate wins.
2. Believe that your candidate is the only “real” pro-life candidate in the race and bash other pro-life candidates
In a primary where there are several pro-life candidates, pro-life individuals should select the candidate they think is best. Sometimes, unfortunately, some pro-life advocates attack the other pro-life candidates for not being “pro-life enough.” For example, if a candidate has a decades-long pro-life voting record, they pick out the one or two votes in which the candidate did not vote correctly and attack him as not being sufficiently pro-life. Yet both share the same pro-life platform. By doing this, the pro-life advocate demoralizes fellow pro-life advocates and weakens enthusiasm for the pro-life candidate who does win the primary. Pro-abortion groups will, of course, take advantage of this circular firing squad. Pro-abortion candidates will highlight these divisions in pro-life circles to hold down support for their opponents. Ironically, at the same time, pro-abortion candidates will go to other voters and label the same pro-life candidate as an “anti-choice extremist.”
3. Support a really nice candidate who is pro-life but has no chance of winning
The lives of countless unborn children and their mothers hang in the balance. That is why the viability of a candidate must be considered when determining how to cast our votes. Sometimes, there may be a wonderful pro-life individual running who is active in your right-to-life chapter or attends your church. They have the best of intentions and care deeply about the issue. But, if they cannot gain enough support to be a viable candidate, they should be encouraged to step aside for a pro-life candidate who can win the general election.
4. Expect candidates to sound like Right to Life chapter leaders
People who are not directly involved in the pro-life movement are not going to be as articulate or well-versed in all the pro-life issues. At the onset, they may not know all the ins and outs of Roe v. Wade or Dobbs v. Jackson, or why we prefer the term “pro-life” as opposed to “anti-abortion” or “anti-choice.” Unless there has been some prior discussion with active pro-life advocates, some candidates may not realize that there are certain “code words” that are interpreted differently by the pro-life community. Just because the wrong word comes out of their mouth does not necessarily make the candidate a phony. Sometimes a truly pro-life candidate can be tripped up by the media, confused, ill-informed, or quoted out of context. Give candidates a chance to explain what they really believe. In most cases, they will do what is right once they are in office, but that does not mean they will be comfortable or articulate talking about the killing of unborn babies. Remember, words are nice, but action is better.
5. Expect the candidate to always make abortion the major issue in the campaign
According to an August 2023 survey for Newsweek conducted by Redfield and Wilton Strategies, American voters cited the economy (60%) as their top concern heading into the 2024 election cycle. The second most important issue cited was healthcare (33%) followed by immigration and crime, which tied for third (24%). Abortion and the environment tied for fourth (21%). In order to win, candidates have to address many issues and appeal to a wide electorate. It is our job as the pro-life movement to reach out to friends, family, and neighbors who share our views and inform them of the candidates’ positions on abortion. It is the candidate’s job to build a winning coalition of voters based on a broad range of issues and interests.
Based on the political leanings of particular states or districts, the ways in which pro-life candidates address the abortion issue may vary. For example, winning strategies may look different in Louisiana versus California. However, when abortion comes up in an interview or during a debate, pro-life candidates must clearly and directly articulate their positions. They must also not be afraid to call out their pro-abortion opponents for supporting unlimited abortions and using taxpayer money to pay for them. However, to expect a pro-life candidate to always make abortion the top issue in the campaign can be a sure-fire way to lose an election. To assume every voter takes the abortion issue into account is another.
6. Vote for a third-party or independent candidate who has no chance of winning
There will be times when a third-party or independent candidate enters a race between a pro-life candidate and a pro-abortion candidate from each of the two major American political parties. They claim to be the “real” pro-life candidate. This third-party candidate will often attack the pro-life candidate who has a real chance of winning, try to undermine their credibility with pro-life voters, and siphon away votes the pro-life candidate would have otherwise received. This only serves to help the pro-abortion candidate. There are numerous examples of pro-abortion candidates who won close elections by margins smaller than the number of votes received by a third-party candidate in the race who claimed to be pro-life.
Pro-life voters who support third-party or independent candidates, to the detriment of a pro-life candidate who could have won, may feel like they have not compromised their principles – but if they indirectly aid a candidate who will allow the killing of unborn babies to continue, they have compromised something far more important – innocent lives.
7. Force pro-life candidates to sign public pledges or take positions in a primary that could be politically damaging in a general election
As pro-life advocates, we know the impact that elections can have on whether unborn children and their mothers are protected. With the stakes so high, we want to confirm definitively that candidates who say they are pro-life will deliver on their promises once they are elected. This can make the idea of forcing candidates sign public pledges appealing. But no formal pledge can compel a lawmaker to vote a certain way. What a public pledge can do, however, is provide a candidate’s pro-abortion opponent with a powerful weapon in a general election. Furthermore, we as the pro-life movement, should discourage situations (particularly in primaries) in which pro-life candidates feel the need to one-up each other in brandishing their pro-life credentials in order to win our votes. In an effort to outflank the other pro-life candidates in a primary, some candidates find themselves taking positions that come back to hurt them in the general election. More often than not, these are positions on issues that will not even come up in the term or bills that would have no chance of passing anyway. Meanwhile, their pro-abortion opponent in the general election stands ready to exploit any opportunity to portray the pro-life candidate as “extreme” on the issue. One of the last things we want to do is give pro-abortion candidates easy fodder for attack ads or make it easier for them to win a general election.
8. Decline to vote if there is no “pro-life” candidate in the race
Sometimes, both major political parties nominate candidates who identify themselves as “pro-choice.” Neither one supports the passage of greater protections for unborn children and their mothers. In these cases, some key considerations are which candidate would do the least amount of harm to the pro-life cause, what impact a candidate’s election would have on the balance of power in a particular legislative body, and which candidate could be open to some persuasion and possibly cast a few pro-life votes once in office.
In these less-than-ideal races, it is worth considering the minor differences between the candidates on the issue. For example, sometimes candidates who characterize themselves as “pro-choice” will take a position against new protections for unborn children and their mothers, but they support keeping in place those currently on the books. Another example is the candidate who generally supports abortion but also happens to be a fiscal hawk and is willing to take a position against the use of tax dollars to pay for abortions. Meanwhile, in both of these examples, their opponent wants to strike down all pro-life protections and actively supports the passage of pro-abortion laws. In these cases, even though there is no “pro-life” candidate in the race, in name at least, there are distinctions between the two major candidates that make one preferable to the other. We can never afford to leave important races on our ballot blank or skip elections altogether. Your vote and your voice matter way too much for that!