Over the last 20 years the question asked of me perhaps more often than all others is, “Why are you still a Republican?”
If the person inquiring is prochoice, I usually reply that they should want folks with views like mine to remain in the party, or things would be worse. Everyone, regardless of their party affiliation, should want dissenting voices to push back at party meetings and at National Conventions every four years. For example, we have successfully fought back against harsh measures aimed at cutting off party money to our candidates and leaders who support choice.
But that response is only part of the answer. I am still a Republican for other reasons as well, some of which may surprise you.
First, the Democrats talk a good game but don’t often deliver. I first got publicly active in the prochoice movement after the Webster v. Reproductive Health Services decision in 1989, which affirmed a Missouri law restricting the use of state funds and resources for abortion. At that time, many of the most antichoice states in the nation were led by Democratic governors, or Democratic-controlled legislatures. My own home state of Virginia was one such example. State legislator Joe Gartlan, a Democrat, led the antichoice forces in that General Assembly.
It was therefore our intention through Republicans for Choice to help folks look past the party label and focus on what the real position was for any particular candidate. That mission still holds true today. Not many realize that US Senate Majority Leader, Democratic Senator Harry Reid, is antichoice.
Also, the Democrats controlled the House and Senate for years, as well as the eight years post Roe v. Wade (four under Carter and four under Clinton) in which the Democrats also controlled the White House. In that time there was ample opportunity to pass laws to protect Roe and overturn the Hyde Amendment … but they did not.
Second, supporters of reproductive choice, like me, remain in the GOP because we show by our very existence that the fight over a woman’s right to choose is not a Republican/Democratic issue, nor even a conservative/liberal issue. It truly is an issue between those who trust and respect women, and those who do not. Many in Republicans for Choice have been allies with antichoicers on other issues. That’s why we were named “the most dangerous group in the prochoice movement” by the antis. We did not fit neatly into their box.
As the late outspoken antichoice journalist Bob Novak once told me, “Folks hate it when you are on (Crossfire) against them. They find it hard to yell at you on this issue since you have often been on the same side on other fights like against communism.” As a result, two iconic conservative publications, National Review and Human Events, have repeatedly tried to demonize me. Their personal attacks were almost laughable since I had been the marketing manager for Human Events right out of college, a fact that was left out of their “profiles” on me.
The fight over a woman’s right to choose is not a Republican/Democratic issue, nor even a conservative/liberal issue. It truly is an issue between those who trust and respect women, and those who do not.
Third, I remain a Republican because our party, when it is on the right track, does offer some great elected leaders. As a small businesswoman as well as a prochoice activist, I want leaders who believe in keeping government out of both the bedroom and the boardroom. We have people like Senators Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Scott Brown; members of Congress Charles Dent, Richard Hanna and Judy Biggert; and scores of others who stand up for our rights in both worlds. It is much tougher for them to stand strong on this issue than it is for any elected Democrat, and for that they have my undying gratitude and respect.
In addition, we have at least two presidential candidates running this year who are prochoice Republicans. The most credentialed is former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who left that office and is still immensely popular in his state (no small feat). We have worked to ensure he is allowed on stage for the presidential debates so our voice is heard.
It is unconscionable that Rick Santorum, who is a former senator and antichoice, is allowed on stage in all the debates when he was voted out of office, but a successful two-term prochoice governor, Gary Johnson, is not. Fred Karger, who is also a prochoice contender, is a long shot but in many ways has as much right to the stage as Herman Cain did from the beginning—albeit Cain’s star has risen since the Florida straw poll.
There are some other pleasant surprises among our other candidates but I will leave that for another time. But therein exists an opportunity for the prochoice and women’s movements in dealing with the GOP. I have found on more than one occasion if you don’t treat our antichoice officeholders like the enemy they may surprise you. It is amazing how many of them, when you ask why they are antichoice, will give you their personal, often religion-based, reasons for their position. However, they often add, “But I wouldn’t feel comfortable making that decision for a woman.” When I point out if they favor letting the woman decide, that is a prochoice position, they seem stunned. But it confirms what past polling tells us: up to 69 percent of Republicans think the decision should be made by the woman, not the government. With “leaners” we have seen it go up to as high as 80 percent. That is the real Republican position. Let me further expand on that point in my last reason for staying in the GOP.
I am still a Republican because I represent the real core founding principles of what it means to be a Republican: to live one’s life with minimum interference by government and equal rights and access to the opportunities enjoyed by all.
Some say these principles are best summed up as, “The government that governs least, governs best,” but that doesn’t paint the complete picture. Real Republicans represent their party’s founding principles born out of the slavery abolition movement. Theirs is a belief in the positive things that the strength of the human spirit, when unshackled, will soar and achieve. It is a belief that individuals will ultimately make the best decisions for themselves, their families and their country. Those early Republicans fought for the most basic individual rights for all—regardless of color and later, regardless of gender.
Yes, it was out of the mostly Republican abolition movement that the struggle for women’s suffrage was launched.
It is a twisted irony that the party that first pushed for women to be trusted with the vote now does not seem to trust women to make the most basic decisions about their own health and reproduction.
Susan B. Anthony, who was arrested for proudly casting her vote for Ulysses S. Grant and the entire Republican ticket in 1872, would be appalled that her party does not now trust her to make a decision about abortion, one of the most personal decisions a woman can face.
Contrary to those on the other side of this issue who claim Susan B. Anthony for their own, Anthony would never have stood for this affront to women. Any fear she had about abortion in her lifetime was due to the hazards posed by that era’s risky procedures that made both abortion and frankly, childbirth, a threat to women’s lives. No, she would have said first and foremost, as we do today in the prochoice movement: above all “trust women.”