During the 2014 governor’s race in Illinois, I saw yards in my hometown with a “Vote for Bruce Rauner” sign alongside a “Pray to End Abortion” sign. I couldn’t help but shake my head. My suspicion is that those folks were unaware of Bruce Rauner’s “pro-choice” view on abortion.
People are often surprised when I point out that the last two Republican governors in Illinois, Bruce Rauner and George Ryan, were both pro-choice. What’s even more surprising to folks who don’t pay close attention is that the IL GOP regularly runs pro-choice candidates for governor. Six out of the last eight Republican gubernatorial candidates have rhetoric or records that would be categorized as pro-choice:
2018-Rauner-Pro Choice (Chicago Tribune, 09/29/2017)
2006-Topinka-Pro Choice (Chicago Tribune, 12/10/2014)
2002-J. Ryan-Pro Life
1998-G. Ryan-Pro Choice (Chicago Tribune, 05/18/2000)
1994-Edgar-Pro Choice (Chicago Tribune, 05/23/1995)
It might go back even further. In 1977, for example, Jim Thompson vetoed a bill that would have banned abortions for women on welfare, calling it “more than unfair—it is cruel.” (New York Times, 09/14/1977)
It will surprise some folks when I say we haven’t talked about this issue enough but I believe it to be true. We have talked AT each other about the issue but I don’t think we’ve talked WITH each other about it nearly enough.
I have friends who call themselves “pro-life,” and friends who call themselves “pro-choice,” for whom I have great respect. Both groups sincerely believe their view is what’s best for society and they will continue to advocate for their view because of their convictions.
I know I’m not unique in having friends with opposing views, but this issue in particular is problematic, as each sides argues that the other side is violating basic human rights. Given the passion each group of voters brings to the table, it’s no surprise that there are a fair number of politicians who are willing to exploit the issue for political gain. Then again, assuming that politicians are being cynical about any issue is a quick way to descend to single-issue voting, and there aren’t too many un-nuanced issues in a society as complex as ours.
Governor Thompson, in vetoing the welfare abortion bill, also said, “my belief is that such women will, in many cases, attempt to terminate unwanted pregnancies in other, more desperate ways” that could lead to “needless death and suffering of mothers and children.” (New York Times, 09/14/1977) Whether his veto was right or wrong, he recognized that nuance is real and that unintended consequences of legislative decisions do exist.
It seems to me that common ground on this issue exists, too. A friend of mine once said that every woman contemplating an abortion is a woman in crisis. The friend argued that what society ought to do is support a woman in crisis and give her the real help she needs to make healthy decisions, not tell her what to do or what not to do. Support for a woman in crisis is more likely to lead to healthier outcomes than a blanket ban on abortion or wholesale legalization. It might even lead to fewer abortions.
In thinking about the yard signs I mentioned in the opening paragraph, it strikes me that they unintentionally stumbled on to a workable middle ground on this issue. Folks who consider themselves “pro-life” absolutely should pray about the issue but be willing to consider the nuance that is inherent in being pro-life, rather than just being anti-abortion. Honest politicians recognize that, and work to support women in crisis, rather than just give lip service to the idea, while pretending that simple solutions exist for complex situations.
I respect the ideals of voters who have single issues that motivate them. What I would like to see them do is to keep asking more questions of the candidates they think support those ideals. Find out what they really mean by “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” Life isn’t simple or un-nuanced, despite our ideals. Our public servants shouldn’t be either.
Editor’s Note: David Seiler of Effingham is the Democratic nominee for the Illinois 107th House District. He faces incumbent Republican Blaine Wilhour in the Nov. 3 general election. The EDN welcomes guest columns from all candidates regarding issues affecting the residents of Illinois.