Sed Contra: Baiting Pro-lifers

Deal W. Hudson
June 1, 1999

In a recent Washington Post op-ed (May 6, 1999), Richard Cohen unveiled a strategy that pro-life forces will need to resist before the next presidential election. Like Cohen, abortion advocates are likely to bait pro-lifers over the next 18 months, preaching that their presidential candidates lack integrity if they don’t make abortion the major theme of their candidacy.

Cohen describes several of the Republican candidates—and I assume this is meant to be derogatory—as more “pro-winning” than pro-life. Cohen complains: “If I called myself ‘pro-life,’ I could not take a casual attitude toward abortion…. How can they [Republican candidates] be so moderate, so temperate, so coolly pragmatic about the taking of so-called innocent life?”

Cohen is a smart guy: He knows that, when pro-lifers sound fanatical, they lose votes, even from their own moderate supporters. And he also knows how to appeal to our moral vanity. A weakness of many good men is this need to keep up saintly appearances. The last thing any pro-life supporter wants to be accused of is cowardice in the face of a moral outrage. Leaders in the pro-life movement periodically accuse each other of lack of purity. The initial scuffling between pro-life groups over the credentials of various candidates was widely reported in the media. Cohen figures, Why not just keep pro-lifers fighting among themselves?

Pro-lifers squirm when you accuse them of putting politics ahead of principle. Point out, as Cohen did, that they are adopting, oh boy, a strategy to win an election, and pro-lifers start dropping to their knees to ask for forgiveness. Why the guilt? What’s wrong with pro-life candidates having a strategy that gets them elected and puts them in power? Abortion supporters would like nothing better than to bait us into the narrowness and stridency that leads almost inevitably to defeat. Whether or not pro-life leaders will take the bait remains to be seen.

There are still some in the pro-life movement who seem unwilling to distinguish between a commitment to principle and an election strategy For them, a “pro-life candidate” wears only one cut of clothes and gives one kind of stump speech. One would think that after the last eight years of an antagonistic White House, all the pro-life leaders would be ready to pull together. A mere glance at the number of Supreme Court justices who will soon be retiring should wipe away any guilt about the practical politics of the next election.

There are times when avoiding to speak out on life issues for strategic purposes would raise doubts about a candidate. This dilemma makes it all the more necessary for pro-life candidates to create solid, back-channel connections to pro-lifers through their leadership. This leadership should be told, in detail, what policies will be pursued after power changes hands. Of course, there are no guarantees in politics, either for the candidate who holds his cards close to his chest or for the one who lays them on the table.

Cohen assumes that the very existence of a political strategy as such evinces a compromise of principle, but it may be that the development of such strategies is evidence of the political maturation of this pro-life generation. And Cohen’s miscalculation leads to a mistake at another level as well: “You cannot tell me that most of the candidates now in the field would deny an abortion to a 15-year old daughter, one month pregnant and constantly be crying. Maybe at five or six months, they would take a stand. At eight or nine certainly…. But in the early stages? Forget it.”

Politics aside here is where Cohen’s understanding of principle fails him: Having principles means practicing what you preach when it affects you, and your family, in a personal way. The coming year will show that Cohen, and others who misunderstand principle, underestimate both the savvy and the commitment of the pro-life candidates and their constituencies.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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