Not so fast, Sully

Andrew Sullivan bestows a coveted Yglesias Award Nomination on one David French for writing this in the Washington Post:

“In my years as an evangelical conservative lawyer and activist, I have learned (and lived) the painful reality that we evangelicals are all too often no better – and sometimes much worse – than the very people we seek to convert. If God’s strength is truly made perfect in weakness, then we surely give God many occasions to show his power. The gracious gift of knowledge of God and relationship with Him should fill us with humility – not arrogance. In short, self-identification as evangelical should be irrelevant in presidential politics – neither an asset nor a liability. When voting for president, we should judge candidates by their competence, character, and ideas,”

Neat, huh?  I suppose decrying a religious requirement for our public officials is commendable, though I lament that it’s even necessary to do so in certain quarters.  I would wish that such instruction would be needless so obvious is the message, along the same lines as “don’t push old ladies into traffic” and “don’t lick puddles on the garage floor.”  But for some voters I guess these words are important truth-speaking.

But in the same Op-Ed, French writes this:

What about character? Faithful to his wife and an exemplary father to his sons, there has never been even a hint of scandal around Mitt. And while his recent conversion to the pro-life cause is notorious, his consistent pro-life record as governor of one of America’s most liberal states is unfortunately less known. He won a political leadership awardfrom Massachusetts Citizens for Life after he vetoed expanded access to the so-called “morning after” abortion pill and vetoed a bill permitting embryonic stem cell research in Massachusetts. [emphasis added]

Whoopsie.  There goes whatever admiration French may have won from me, flying out the window.

The calumny about the “morning after” pill causing abortions is an old one.  While the mechanism of action is not 100% understood, emergency contraception most likely works by preventing ovulation.  It is possible that it may have some effect on preventing implantation of a fertilized egg, which counts as an abortion if you have the most extreme views about life beginning at the moment of conception.  If you allow any more nuance into your definition than that, then it’s clear emergency contraceptives don’t cause abortion.  Making them harder to obtain only increases the odds that a woman will have an otherwise preventable unintended pregnancy, which is hardly a laudable outcome.

Further, making embryonic stem cell research more difficult saves no “lives” whatsoever.  None.  The stem cells that would be used for this research are doomed to be destroyed anyway.  They are created in fertility clinics, and once prospective parents stop using the clinics for whatever reason their remaining embryos are discarded.  Banning stem cell research merely costs patients its potential benefit, while offering no real-world triumph for the pro-life community whatsoever.  Claiming it as such is a sham.

So, yeah, fine.  French thinks it’s OK for evangelicals to vote for a Mormon.  Good for him, I guess.  But neither he nor his favored candidate look like particular proponents of the truth from where I sit.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. I do think that when it comes to embryonic stem cell research, pro-lifers probably look at the “doomed embryo” in a way most people (at least, I assume most people) look at human corpses, that is, people probably think it would be wrong to experiment on a dead body if it was not clear that the person or had wanted his or her body to be experimented on. At least, I’m uneasy about allowing experiments without first ascertaining the person’s wishes. In that sense banning embryonic stem cell research is a victory for the pro-life side even though, as you rightly point out, the ban saves no lives.

    For what it’s worth, I consider myself pro-choice, but I do have a problem with the fertility processes that create several embryos in the first place. (I believe the woman has the right to terminate the life in her own body, but that right doesn’t extend to life created in test tubes. Of course, others’ mileage may very.)

    • Since there’s a whole host of cadaver research done, I really have a hard time with the ‘doomed embryo’ as a viable objection.

      As for the second, since the embryos were already created, then your objection lies with fertility clinics in general.

      • My discomfort is with the idea that cadaver research might be done on people who would not have given their consent. I’m not opposed to people experimenting on cadavers in principle.

        And your second point is well taken.

        • I should have added: Of course, whether the embryo is a “person” and therefore whether my analogy is apt is open for debate. But if one accepts the premise that the embryo is a person, then it is easier to understand the objection.

        • I’ll add one more thing and then I’ll shut up because I’ve already monopolized the conversation too much:

          I suppose if one is willing to allow experimentation on bodies as long as “the family” consents, then there isn’t really a problem with embryonic stem cell research. I imagine that the people involved in the fertility processes probably consent that the clinic may do what it wishes to with the embryos after they (the people involved) no longer need or want them.

    • Pierre,
      Ya, what you say seems reasonable. Still, if we can’t preserve those lives (the test tube babies not implanting), we should have some policy for them.

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