By Philip Wegmann for RealClearPolitics
Champagne in hand, Mike Pence delivered a speech Tuesday night he had worked toward his entire political career.
The former vice president toasted the Supreme Court for overturning Roe v. Wade, celebrated the lawmakers who had confirmed the conservative Supreme Court majority behind the landmark Dobbs decision, and told those gathered for a gala hosted by the pro-life Susan B. Anthony group in the nation’s capital that they had only reached what he called “the end of the beginning.”
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Pence, who harbors his own White House ambitions and who has made the pro-life cause his life’s work, insists there is more work to be done to restrict abortion. The Indiana Republican made that clear earlier in the day during an exclusive interview with RealClearPolitics.
“I welcome any and all efforts to advance the cause of life in state capitals or in the nation’s capital,” Pence told RCP when asked about legislation to institute a federal abortion ban. “And I have every confidence that the next Republican president, whoever that may be, will stand for the right to life.”
“It is imperative that Republicans and conservatives resolve, here and now, that we will not shrink from the fight,” he added. For their part, Republican leadership would rather not. At least, not right now.
More specifically, on Capitol Hill, GOP brass groused Tuesday that South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bill to ban most abortions at 15 weeks had elevated a divisive social issue ahead of the midterms at the expense of their economic broadside against the White House. “Most of the members of my conference,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, “prefer that this be dealt with at the state level.”
Pence understands the argument. He just believes advocating for a national abortion ban, as well as individual state restrictions, “is profoundly more important than any short-term politics.”
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And despite the risk touted by various GOP political consultants, he believes that those state and federal level efforts will not harm Republican chances of taking Congress. “I’m convinced,” he said, “that enthusiasm among pro-life Americans in states across the country is equal to, or greater than, any new motivation by people that support abortion rights.”
White House strategists have made the opposite bet, and since the Supreme Court decision, President Biden has branded those who would restrict abortion as “Ultra MAGA” extremists. Asked about how that label applies to the pro-life lobby, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told RCP that “when you are not with where a majority of Americans are, then that is extreme.”
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“Anyone looking for extremism ought to be looking to the position that President Joe Biden and the Party have taken on abortion,” the former vice president shot back, citing Biden’s flip-flop on the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding for abortion, and his support of “abortion all the way up to the moment of birth.”
Leading Democrats, including the president, have repeatedly voiced impassioned support for abortion rights and codifying Roe into federal law. When pressed, however, White House officials have declined to say what, if any, restrictions the president would support.
Pence argued that it was “incumbent upon Republicans” to call out Democrats and the White House for their stance on abortion which “is out of sync with the American people, and frankly, has resulted in America being out of step with most of the Western world.”
On the abortion question, public polling consistently shows that a majority of the country opposes reversing Roe and supports a federal right to abortion. The same majority, however, supports an array of restrictions, including banning most abortions after 12 weeks, well within the time frame of Graham’s legislation. According to a recent Harvard/Harris survey, for instance, 72% of Americans support a limit on abortion no later than 15 weeks while 90% prefer abortion without restrictions.
“What I’m trying to say is that there ought to be a line in a civilized nation that you do not cross. This is even less restrictive than France,” Graham said of his 15-week abortion ban in a brief interview with RCP. “Pro-life people are not going to go away,” he added. “’Don’t come talk to us in Washington,’ is not the right answer,” the South Carolina senator said, dismissing the criticism from within his own party before peeling off to huddle with Pence.
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Abortion restrictions on the European continent vary. France allows abortion on demand up until the first 14 weeks of pregnancy while the United Kingdom permits it until 24 weeks. The regulatory map has shifted in the United States since this summer when the Supreme Court reversed Roe. Roughly half of the states are expected to significantly limit or ban abortion.
Achieving that outcome has been the motivating cause of Pence’s career. In Congress, he was a regular supporter of legislation to limit abortion. Later, as Governor of Indiana, he signed a bill into law that outlawed abortion on the basis of race, gender, or disability.
Exactly one week after his inauguration, he became the first vice president in history to address the March for Life in person, the highest-ranking United States official to do so until then President Trump followed suit. Three years later.
That kind of work has made Pence a favorite of evangelicals, and is why SBA president Marjorie Dannenfelser introduced the former vice president as both “an architect” and “a hero of this movement.” In fact, it was his addition to the Republican ticket in 2016 that calmed many on the religious right who were still hesitant to vote for Donald Trump.
Of late, as he considers his own bid for the White House, Pence has been making a pro-life pitch to religious voters in key swing states like North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
“My consistent message will be to legislators and to governors around the country, and the leaders here in Washington DC, is to by all means advance the cause of life,” Pence said. In his mind, just half of the work is done. Conservatives, he added, must “recognize that it may take us as long to restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state as it took us to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
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But Democrats argue that much more than just abortion is at stake. Just hours after the Supreme Court struck down Roe, Biden warned that the ruling will endanger “so many more rights that we’ve come to take for granted, that are ingrained in the fabric of this country.” For instance, he said, the “right to marry the person you love.”
The president was referencing a concurring opinion authored by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas who wrote that the high court “should reconsider” past rulings that relied on a legal doctrine known as “substantive due process” to codify rights to contraception and same-sex marriage.
When RealClearPolitics asked if the Supreme Court should revisit those cases, Griswold and Obergevel in particular, Pence parted company with Thomas. “I have enormous respect for Justice Clarence Thomas but the majority on the Supreme Court in the Dobbs case made it clear,” he said for the first time, “that their decision was about abortion.”
Pence added that he had “put such a premium in my life on the cause of the unborn,” that by now he was able to discern between legitimate concerns and efforts of opponents “to create ions in the public debate, and this seems like just that.” He concluded that “it is incumbent on all of us to take the court at their word and focus on advancing the cause of life.”
That mission will not end, and if he runs for president, it will almost certainly be a hallmark of his campaign. “The inalienable right to life is enshrined in our founding documents,” Pence said, “and however long I have left in the public debate, or on this earth, I’m going to be a part of advancing the cause of life all across this nation.”
Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.
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