Scott Walker Shows How Pro-Life Presidential Candidates Can Avoid the Media’s Abortion Trap

Opinion   |   Joel Brind Ph.D.   |   Mar 12, 2015   |   11:13AM   |   Washington, DC

One really encouraging aspect of the GOP Presidential field shaping up for 2016 is that virtually all of the serious potential candidates are reliably pro-life. We neither have candidates who claim to be “pro-choice”, nor any who have had a politically convenient pro-life conversion this time around.

We do need to listen carefully to what all the candidates say, and make sure there is no compromise on principle, but we do not have the problem of needing to be convinced that a candidate with a strong pro-life record is the real deal.

No, this time around we have the luxury of discerning which of the candidates has the best chance of winning nomination and election, then the ability to govern effectively and maximize the advance of the cause of life when in office.

Full disclosure: I admit up front that I’m for Gov. Scott Walker.His recent comments, after having been thrust into the harsh glare of the limelight of such venues as Fox News Sunday, provide a good illustration of how a solid pro-life candidate can handle the mainstream media successfully.

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You might wonder why a breast cancer researcher like me should be evaluating political campaigns, having worked long and hard to keep politics out of scientific research. Actually, long experience as a pro-life advocate making an effective and truthful case against abortion on grounds that are not identifiably pro-life, has given me some perspective on politics that I believe is worth sharing with my pro-life colleagues.

It’s a given that mainstream media interviews are loaded with gotcha’ questions and traps, and Fox News is no exception. During the wide-ranging March 1 interview of Walker on Fox News Sunday, interviewer Chris Wallace began by characterizing Walker’s position on abortion as having changed: “Your critics accuse you of another flip”. Then he replayed an ad from Walker’s recent re-election campaign, wherein Walker spoke of new abortion-restricting legislation in Wisconsin. In the ad, Walker said: “I support legislation to increase safety, and to provide more information for a woman considering her options. The bill leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.”

The implication of Wallace’s set-up, is that the ad portrays Walker as “pro-choice”. It sure sounds consistent with a “pro-choice position”, doesn’t it? Of course it does, because it is a position staked on common ground with “pro-choice” people. In fact, it is exactly the kind of argument I have often made in favor of legislation requiring abortion practitioners to inform women of the abortion-breast cancer link. But it certainly does not mean that I—or Scott Walker—am not pro-life! What it means is that we all understand that we are working under the constraints of Roe v. Wade.

Wallace follows the ad with the slyly ambiguous question: “Do you believe that a woman has a right to end a pregnancy at any point during those 9 months?”

His question lays a trap: If Walker answers “yes”, that would be interpreted as his being in favor of unrestricted abortion at any time up to 9 months; and if he answers “no”, it would be interpreted as his opposition to abortion at any and every time during those 9 months. While the latter is true, a “no” answer would enable the media to paint Walker as holding an “extreme” view, and more damagingly, a view contradictory to the one seemingly expressed in the campaign ad just replayed. Wallace could have dragged Walker into the weeds, therefore, trying to explain an answer that was somewhere in between. But that ground is all “pro-choice” ground, and Walker is pro-life, so he did not answer the question directly. In pertinent part, he answered “Well, I think ultimately, I’m pro-life because that’s an unborn child.” He elaborated some, citing his own experience of becoming a father, while avoiding the question of “a woman’s right to choose.”

But Wallace stayed in pursuit, finishing Walker’s “Ultimately, it is a life”, with “Ultimately it’s her choice.” So Walker explained—three times—how it was “legally” her choice under the constraints of the “Supreme Court’s decision”, never acknowledging that a woman has the right to abort, except that Supreme Court has ruled so.

Walker thus cleverly eluded Wallace’s trap, reiterating that the unborn child is a life and that he is pro-life. Wallace stayed with it, asking Walker if he would change that law (permitting abortion) and he replied that it was up to the Supreme Court, otherwise the law could not be changed. But then he concluded the discussion with: “I believe in the right to life, and I believe there are other things that could be done at both the state and the federal level.”—perhaps a hint at his coming endorsement of “pain-capable” pro-life legislation two days thence.

At the same time, Walker also skillfully eluded the trap of mentioning Roe v. Wade by name, in speaking about the constraints imposed by “the Supreme Court’s decision.”

Why? Because what Roe v. Wade actually is and what Roe v. Wade means to the general public are two different things. We know it represents the legalization of abortion at any time during pregnancy for any reason or no reason at all. But the general public misunderstands Roe v. Wade to refer only to the first trimester. So for a media outlet to be able to say a candidate opposes Roe v. Wade is to be able to paint him as an “anti-woman extremist”, there being no time in such an interview to explain the difference in a meaningful way.

In short, Scott Walker’s performance on Fox News Sunday was a brilliant example of how to handle the media when it comes to speaking about the life issue, particularly in high profile interview segments. It shows the kind of skill any pro-life candidate needs to be successful in the present anti-life media environment, and other pro-life candidates would do well to study Walker’s example.

LifeNews Note: Joel Brind, Ph.D. is a professor of biology and endocrinology at Baruch College, City University of New York, and co-founder and Board member of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute.