Conventional wisdom says that Republican candidates always get the anti-abortion vote. But the current cultural reckoning with sexual assault is complicating this already complex issue for voters.
Some Alabama constituents who identify as “pro-life,” and who say they use abortion as their guiding principal in the voting booth, are rejecting Republican candidate for Senate Roy Moore — because embracing an alleged child abuser won’t save the Church.
Moore reportedly sexually abused multiple women, many of whom said they were teenage girls when he assaulted them in his 30s. The Republican National Party endorsed Moore anyway. This isn’t the party’s first offense on this issue — the RNC also backed an alleged sexual predator as its 2016 presidential nominee. Now, he’s in the White House.
Moore is leading in some polls, and slightly behind in others. Many outside observers point to his Democratic opponent Doug Jones’ support for abortion rights as the reason why the race is tight. “Most people that are anti-Doug Jones are just saying, ‘Well, he’s a Democrat and part of being Democrat, as a rule, is that you’re pro-choice,’” Republican campaign consultant Jack Campbell told the New York Times. Headline after headline frames a similar story, citing a majority of residents who believe abortion should be illegal in most cases — “tied for third highest in all states,” notes the Times.
But not every anti-abortion voter in Alabama believes the end — overturning Roe v. Wade — justifies the means.
“I am pro-life and I’m voting for Doug Jones anyway,” wrote Matthew Tyson in an op-ed for AL.com in October, even before the first report on Moore’s alleged child molestation. “Actions speak louder than words.”
“I am pro-life and I’m voting for Doug Jones anyway.”
Tyson is a practicing Catholic who fundamentally opposes abortion, but his moral objection to the procedure isn’t enough to convince him to vote for Moore. Tyson told ThinkProgress he values life from conception to natural death. He thinks that people who believe abortion is ethically and morally wrong, like himself, should be focused on bigger solutions to reduce the demand for the medical procedure — like expanding access to health insurance and contraception.
Tyson says Moore doesn’t reflect his pro-life values because the Republican candidate does not value increased access to health care, which reduces the abortion rate. “It’s born out of tragic positioning and a lot of the time it’s a crisis pregnancy,” Tyson said. “It doesn’t happen because women are evil.” Not only do Moore’s health policy views hurt women, but now he’s allegedly done so himself — further eroding his pro-life stance, Tyson said.
The same goes for President Donald Trump — which is why Tyson didn’t vote for him in November either.
After prominent anti-abortion groups like Priests for Life and Susan B. Anthony List supported Donald Trump’s run for president, Tyson co-founded The New Pro-Life Movement (NPLM) to help broaden the way that other abortion opponents think about the “pro-life” label. The group has small but growing support.
The “pro-life movement sold out for Trump,” he said. “It was the 2016 election that was the final push for us to break away.”
The mainstream pro-life movement is hyper-focused on getting right-wing politicians in office, no matter the cost, due to their opposition to abortion. But Tyson says these candidates could promote policies that increase the demand for abortion (like limiting access to birth control) and villainize the person who needs the procedure. Many of these politicians have even been accused of physically endangering women. Still, anti-choice organizations unequivocally back them. This hypocrisy angered Tyson, who says “people are being deceived.”
Nonetheless, many anti-abortion activists consider themselves to be feminists. Tyson is no exception. He says that support for women’s rights is an essential pillar of NPLM — which was also co-founded by Rebecca Bratten Weiss — and he maintains that rejecting patriarchal politicians is part of its pro-life worldview.
Dana Hall McCain, an Alabama resident and devout evangelical Christian, voted for Moore in the GOP runoff in September. But she has changed her mind because of the child abuse allegations against Moore. Since then, she has written two opinion pieces in a local Alabama news site during the campaign pleading voters to abandon Moore.
“Here’s where we are: the GOP has come to understand that Evangelicals are trained seals,” she wrote. “We show up and clap for any clown you can slap a Republican jersey on. It doesn’t even have to be a godly or wise person.” The candidate just has to be anti-abortion, she later told ThinkProgress, but this is especially egregious to her since she identifies as pro-life.
While she and Tyson reached similar conclusions about Moore, they’re taking different tacks in the special election. She says she won’t vote for Jones because he’s pro-choice; she didn’t cast a vote in the 2016 presidential election because she said she couldn’t vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton, a pro-choice candidate.
“I can’t fault the conclusion [Tyson] reaches that voting for Jones is no worse than, and potentially better for, advancing a culture of respect for life than voting for Moore,” McCain told ThinkProgress. “It’s a question I’m still wrestling and praying about as Election Day approaches.”
Tyson and McCain diverge on other specifics, too. While Tyson acknowledges Planned Parenthood provides necessary medical services to people, McCain faults Jones for defending organizations that provide abortions.
Tyson and McCain’s positions on Alabama’s Senate race point to a bigger dynamic at play in U.S. politics. The “pro-choice” and “pro-life” boxes are becoming limiting labels, and don’t reflect the way that most American voters actually think about the complicated policy questions related to abortion rights.
They say their arguments are resonating with some Alabama residents. “People reached out to me and felt virtually the same but couldn’t quite articulate it,” McCain said. Tyson echoed this, adding that young people were particularly receptive to his op-ed because they resent the GOP’s tight grip on the anti-abortion movement. Whether this translates in the polls is a long-shot, but they’re hopeful.
“Supporting an oppressive and abusive politician contradicts the heart of the pro-life philosophy. Voting for Roy Moore shouldn’t even be an option.”
The anti-abortion movement more broadly is now having to reflect on what it means to support Republicans who pledge to restrict abortion rights, even when it requires stomaching bad actors. And there are conflicting responses.
Earlier this month, senior contributor at The Federalist Gracy Olmstead highlighted the hypocritical narrative within the right wing base. She wrote that Republicans like Trump, Moore, and so-called pro-life Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), who resigned after a report that he pressured a woman with whom he was having an affair to get an abortion, all jeopardize the pro-life movement. She argued “supporting an oppressive and abusive politician contradicts the heart of the pro-life philosophy. Voting for Roy Moore shouldn’t even be an option.”
Olmstead’s article was in response to The American Conservative‘s co-founder Pat Buchanan’s own column, in which he asks Alabama voters to turn a blind eye to Moore’s alleged child molestation and vote for him anyway.
The anti-abortion sentiment in Alabama’s election may still result in a Moore win Tuesday. The anti-abortion base in Alabama is older, white, and evangelical Protestant. It’s true that polls around abortion tend to simplify people’s attitudes, but it’s also true that Alabama overwhelmingly went for Trump in 2016.
“These folks are abortion purists who filter everything through the lens of heteronormative traditional nuclear family rights (‘family values’), which leads them to think Moore’s accusers are women out to wrongfully take down a powerful man (just as they view feminists doing),” Stacie Taranto, an associate professor of history at Ramapo College of New Jersey, said in an email to ThinkProgress. “Thus, candidates like Moore and Trump don’t really muddy the water for these voters since the charges hold no water for them.”
But at least some anti-abortion activists are capitalizing on this moment. They’re trying to reclaim the anti-choice movement from prominent national groups like the National Right to Life, who champion problematic candidates that they fear could undermine their cause.
The National Right to Life endorsed Moore days before the Washington Post broke its story about the sexual abuse allegations — and still hasn’t retracted its endorsement. The organization did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about where it currently stands on Moore.
“National Right to Life lost all credibility in my opinion,” Tyson said. “They are the embodiment of the pro-life movement and this is not what this is supposed to be… A win for Doug Jones is the continued ability to talk about this. Even if Moore wins — if the race’s close enough — it leaves the door open.”