Early on in last night’s debate for the leading Republican presidential candidates, Fox’s Megyn Kelly pressed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on the limits of his opposition to abortion rights. “Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion?” the moderator asked, reminding the governor that 83% of Americans support a life-of-the-mother exception.
“Well, I’m pro-life,” Walker replied. “I’ve always been pro-life.” He added moments later that it’s Hillary Clinton who has a “radical position” on abortion rights.
And what of Kelly’s original question? “Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion?” Walker didn’t explicitly answer, but in context, the answer seemed quite clear: yes, actually, he would.
MSNBC’s Irin Carmon highlighted one of the under-appreciated stories of last night’s debate.
At the first debate among candidates vying for the GOP presidential nomination, the question was not whether or not to ban abortion or to defund Planned Parenthood. It was about whether exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or a woman’s life endangerment are legitimate. Their answer: No.
It wasn’t just Walker, of course. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) ,whose performance won raves from much of the political establishment for reasons I can’t fully understand, actually made a little news last night with this exchange:
KELLY: Senator Rubio, you favor a rape and incest exception to abortion bans. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York just said yesterday those exceptions are preposterous. He said they discriminate against an entire class of human beings. If you believe that life begins at conception, as you say you do, how do you justify ending a life just because it begins violently, through no fault of the baby?RUBIO: Well, Megyn, first of all, I’m not sure that that’s a correct assessment of my record. I would go on to add that I believe all–KELLY: You don’t favor a rape and incest exception?RUBIO: I have never said that. And I have never advocated that. What I have advocated is that we pass law in this country that says all human life at every stage of its development is worthy of protection. In fact, I think that law already exists. It is called the Constitution of the United States.
Obviously, the Supreme Court of the United States disagrees with Rubio on that last point, but even putting that aside, Rubio’s position is worth clarifying.
The far-right Floridian co-sponsored legislation just two years ago that would have imposed a 20-week ban, with exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. When Rubio said he’s “never advocated” such a policy, he was mistaken about his own record.
But let’s be more specific. What is Rubio’s position, exactly? The senator appeared on CNN this morning and insisted that “science” has already proven that life begins at conception (it hasn’t). Asked about unwanted pregnancies caused by rape and incest, Rubio replied, “I think both of those instances are horrifying and fortunately, they are extremely rare. It happens. And anytime it happens, it’s horrifying and it’s a tragedy. But I personally and honestly and deeply believe that all human life is worthy of protection irrespective of the circumstances, in which, that human life was created.”
There’s no real ambiguity here. Rubio’s position is that if a woman is impregnated by a rapist, the government has the authority to force her to take the pregnancy to term, regardless of her wishes.
Remember, Rubio likes to pretend he’s the forward-thinking candidate of the future in the GOP field, untethered to the party’s stale, 20th-century agenda.
In a Republican primary, the senator’s position may enjoy quite a bit of support, but a general-election audience may have a very different kind of reaction.