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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The two Jack Wagners (?)

Posted By on Wed, Apr 21, 2010 at 1:20 PM

An interesting coda to my post yesterday about Dan Onorato's position on abortion rights. According to today's Morning Call of Allentown, gubernatorial candidate Jack Wagner has said he, too,  would oppose changing the state's abortion law -- a position similar to the one Onorato has stated:

He may oppose abortion, but Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Wagner says he'd support a woman's right to choose if the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturned Roe v. Wade and left it up to the states to set their own abortion laws.

In an online live-chat with readers, Wagner said the following:

I am a pro-life Democrat and support the current state law. I oppose the use of public funds to provide, refer, or promote abortion. I support public funding and access to family planning and contraceptive services that do not include abortion. Because I strongly believe that the right to life must also mean the right to a decent life for both mother and child, I have always placed a priority on strengthening health care, education, social services, and other important programs. I will continue to focus on these issues if elected Governor. I will also continue to be a strong proponent of adoption.

As noted here yesterday, Wagner was among the gubernatorial candidates invited to address a pro-life gathering in York, PA. The gathering only extended invitations to candidates it believed were pro-life. It now seems they were unclear about Onorato's position, and perhaps Wagner's will come as a surprise to them too.

I'm guessing they won't be alone: I've seen Wagner address the issue alongside Onorato, and if the two candidates agreed on this issue, Wagner did little to make that clear. (He did say, however, that he didn't favor criminalizing abortion.)

But maybe "pro-life" is no longer a viable basis for distinguishing a candidate.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's a totally defensible position to say, as Wagner does, that "I am a pro-life Democrat and support the current state law" -- even though the law allows for choice. In fact, if there have to be pro-life Democrats, this would be my favorite kind.

In fact, some aspects of the position Wagner stated in the online chat seems particularly admirable. (Though this whole "tax dollars shouldn't be spent on abortion services!" thing really gives me hives.) He's pro-life, it seems, in that he wants Pennsylvania to give a woman every incentive for delivering a child. Every incentive, that is, except compelling her to cross state lines if she chooses to abort.

But you can understand why the poor folks in York might be getting confused.

Wagner's position appears to be, "My own personal convictions are pro-life, but I would oppose changing the law to require other people to accept those convictions." But of course, that's really the same as saying, "I believe in other people making these choices for themselves." And that is really the same as saying, "I am pro-choice." 

Given that, one wonders whether it makes any difference what Wagner's personal convictions are. He doesn't have ovaries, after all. And really, it's not as if this is the first time phrases like "pro-life" have seemed problematic. Part of the reason the abortion debate is so wearisome, in fact, is that we use such simplistic terms to argue such a complicated issue. Onorato and Wagner's position might seem a bit slippery, but hell -- if it shows how empty the language has become, that's maybe not such a bad thing.

But again, I wonder how many conservative voters know that all these distinctions are being made ... that "pro-life" as they use it means something different from  "pro-life" as their candidates use it. And I wonder too how they'll react if they realize the truth. 

My guess? It'll work long enough to help secure votes through the primary. And in November, those voters are going Republican anyway.

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