Ron Paul's Abortion Rhetoric

In 1981 a Republican congressman declared:

Abortion on demand is the ultimate State tyranny; the State simply declares that certain classes of human beings are not persons, and therefore not entitled to the protection of the law. The State protects the "right" of some people to kill others, just as the courts protected the "property rights" of slave masters in their slaves. Moreover, by this method the State achieves a goal common to all totalitarian regimes: it sets us against each other, so that our energies are spent in the struggle between State-created classes, rather than in freeing all individuals from the State. Unlike Nazi Germany, which forcibly sent millions to the gas chambers (as well as forcing abortion and sterilization upon many more), the new regime has enlisted the assistance of millions of people to act as its agents in carrying out a program of mass murder.

The name of the congressman? Ron Paul. Yes, that Ron Paul, the long-shot GOP candidate for president running on a platform of pulling out of Iraq and slashing government spending. In 1981, he went on to argue, "Pro-life libertarians have a vital task to perform: to persuade the many abortion-supporting libertarians of the contradiction between abortion and individual liberty; and, to sever the mistaken connection in many minds between individual freedom and the 'right' to extinguish individual life."

Lest you think it's just a minor issue for him, consider the obscure fact that Paul has written not one but two books arguing for the necessity of a pro-life libertarianism: 1983's Abortion and Liberty and 1990's Challenge to Liberty: Coming to Grips with the Abortion Issue. And lest you think he has since changed his views on abortion, ponder what he's saying now. On June 4, 2003, speaking in the House of Representatives, Paul described "the rights of unborn people” as “the greatest moral issue of our time."

Other such quotes aren't hard to find. On March 29, 2005: " I believe beyond a doubt that a fetus is a human life deserving of legal protection, and that the right to life is the foundation of any moral society." Jan. 31, 2006: "The federalization of abortion law is based not on constitutional principles, but rather on a social and political construct created out of thin air by the Roe court." On that note, he has referred to a "federal court tyranny which threatens our constitutional republic and has caused the deaths of 45 million of the unborn." Just before the Ames straw poll, he came out with an Iowa ad touting his pro-life credentials, although in slightly more subdued terms: "I find it difficult not to defend a life a minute before birth just as I would defend that life a minute after birth. To me, it's recognizing the importance of life."

And for Paul, that's a deeply personal concern. His prior job as a doctor -- he has delivered over 4,000 babies -- plays an important role. In his New York Times Magazine profile of Paul, Christopher Caldwell writes: "He remembers seeing a late abortion performed during his residency, years before Roe v. Wade, and he maintains it left an impression on him. 'It was pretty dramatic for me,' he says, 'to see a two-and-a-half-pound baby taken out crying and breathing and put in a bucket.'"

Apparently it was dramatic enough to cause Paul to author H.R. 1094, a bill that declares that "human life shall be deemed to exist from conception," a standard Christian Right viewpoint. While Paul has written, "I have never been one who is comfortable talking about my faith in the political arena," this faith, in conjunction with his traumatic residency experience, seems to have left him deeply troubled by abortion in a way organizations like Focus on the Family would no doubt find familiar. "Many talk about being pro-life," Paul continued. "I have taken and will continue to advocate direct action to restore protection for the unborn."

But how to do this? Paul is also a fervent federalist, which puts him somewhat at odds with the über-pro-life movement that wants to abolish abortion rights nationwide. "I think we ought to return the issue to the states so that local opinions could better determine the specific regulations concerning this deeply personal issue," Paul said in an interview earlier this year. He previously argued that this is necessary to create "a pro-life culture," because federalization "has prevented the 50 states from enacting laws that more closely reflect the views of their citizens." Accepting this, he explained, means "we lost the ability to apply local community standards to ethical issues." On Nov. 17, 2005, he introduced H.R. 4379, the We the People Act, which would remove contested cultural issues like abortion from the jurisdiction of federal courts. On Feb. 6, 2006, the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property. The congressional session ended without any further action.

Perhaps in part because of his stance on abortion, Paul has been referred to as a "selective libertarian." The Libertarian party's platform -- Paul was their 1988 candidate for president -- declares, "Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on both sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration." Kept out of the matter entirely? Sounds more pro-choice than a lot of Democrats and certainly out of step with Paul's professed views on the issue.

But maybe not. Not all government is created equal, it turns out. Shane Corey, executive director of the Libertarian National Committee, said in a phone interview, "Pro-life libertarians -- I'm one of them -- understand and feel that children in the womb should have the same rights and liberties that we enjoy." Pro-life and pro-choice libertarians ,Corey continued, agree that "it's not an issue for the federal government to address." The Libertarian party's official position is support of repealing Roe v. Wade and leaving abortion "remanded to the states." Paul's view, it happens, is pretty much the party line: It's okay to restrict abortion at the state level, just not the federal one. Respect for the rights of state government trumps the rights of women.

Ron Paul's staunch opposition to the Iraq War has won him surprising accolades from parts of the left frustrated with the Democratic party's resistance to removing the U.S. presence from Iraq. But even Paul's anti-war views aren't liberal. They're just old-fashioned isolationism. And when it comes to reproductive rights, sometimes it's hard to distinguish him from the broader Republican party he claims to fight so hard against. He may want to let states decide morality, but what happens when states decide to tell women they can't make their own decisions with their doctors? Just last year, South Dakota started down that path. Liberals were rightfully outraged, because they understand certain rights are too important to be subject to popular vote. But for Paul, if anti-choice conservatives in South Dakota had succeeded, it would have been considered a victory: one step toward creating a pro-life nation, not from the top down, but one community at a time.