This op-ed first appeared online at Politico on June 29, 2011.
Anti-abortion hopefuls should pledge
By Marjorie Dannenfelser
The Susan B. Anthony List’s Pro-Life Leadership Pledge has garnered praise from a number of Republican presidential candidates, including Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Tim Pawlenty, each of whom has signed the pledge.
It has also faced some misinformed criticism, however, not only from the media but from other presidential candidates who refuse to sign on to the pledge’s four basic principles. The most notable of these candidates is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has penned his own anti-abortion pledge as a way to set forth to voters exactly where he stands on the issue. While it is encouraging to see Romney explain to the American public his anti-abortion stance, including judicial appointments and the defunding of Planned Parenthood, one crucial concern remains.
Romney has stated that a primary problem with the SBA List’s pledge is the restraints it would put on him as president to appoint certain individuals to Cabinet-level positions. His implicit suggestion is that any appointments of abortion-rights supporters would be forbidden should he sign the pledge. This is simply not the case.
The pledge uses very clear language to indicate which Cabinet appointments most concern the anti-abortion movement: specifically, attorney general, secretary of Health and Human Services and director of the National Institutes of Health. Each of these offices has direct influence over the development, implementation and enforcement of domestic policies concerning the issue of life.
The Department of Justice, headed by the attorney general, represents the U.S. government in federal court cases involving abortion. Furthermore, the attorney general plays a vital role in the vetting and selection of judges at all levels, including those for the Supreme Court. Time and again, we have seen how an intrusive, activist high court can, with one ruling, strike down anti-abortion laws. Having an abortion-rights appointee leading the Justice Department would be flatly unacceptable. An anti-abortion president would not hesitate to share this conviction.
The Department of Health and Human Services also plays a key role in the nation’s abortion policies. The secretary of HHS is responsible for the enforcement of such measures as the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. Since the passage of President Barack Obama’s health care takeover, the role of the HHS secretary is more important than ever in ensuring that the laws protecting women and the lives of hundreds of thousands of unborn children are understood and enforced. The next president must set a new course in these areas.
Finally, as an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health also plays a role in key policies concerning life, specifically bioethical questions that are sure to arise in any administration. During the Bush administration, the issues of stem cell research and end-of-life care were central to the national debate.
The Susan B. Anthony List’s Pro-Life Presidential Leadership Pledge calls for the selection of “pro-life appointees for relevant Cabinet and executive branch positions, in particular the head of National Institutes of Health, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services.” Through this pledge, it is SBA List’s goal to ensure that the president will confidently appoint to these critical offices individuals who are committed to policies that protect life at all stages. Some argue that it is wiser counsel to seek such commitments confidentially, but we disagree. The American people have the right to know the views of those who hold leading positions in government; the public interest is never served when issues of such profound importance are submerged from the public view.
The word “relevant” is included in the pledge, and three specific agencies are named, precisely to avoid the kind of confusion that concerns Romney. But the question remains: Would he offer a nominee who supports abortion rights to serve as attorney general, HHS secretary or director of the National Institutes of Health?
We have worked closely with Romney in the anti-abortion cause in recent years, and we look forward to his signature on this important promise to the cause.
Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a nationwide organization dedicated to advancing, mobilizing and representing anti-abortion women in the political process.