Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who announced his candidacy for the presidency this week, isn’t willing to clarify whether he believes there are any circumstances under which women should be allowed to legally obtain an abortion.
When the Associated Press pressed the GOP contender about “where, in his view, a pregnant woman’s rights begin and those of the fetus end,” Paul would not answer the question. He did not say whether a total abortion ban should include any exceptions for extreme cases, like women who do not wish to continue a pregnancy that resulted from sexual violence.
“The thing is about abortion — and about a lot of things — is that I think people get tied up in all these details of, sort of, you’re this or this or that, or you’re hard and fast (on) one thing or the other,” Paul told the AP.
Federal precedent for national abortion restrictions — such as the widespread restrictions that prohibit taxpayer dollars from funding abortions — allow for narrow exceptions for women who become pregnant from rape and incest, as well as for women whose lives will be placed in danger by continuing a pregnancy. GOP candidates for president have historically supported similar exceptions.
On his campaign website, Paul declares “that life begins at conception and that abortion takes the life of an innocent human being.” During his time in Congress, the Kentucky senator has co-sponsored a total abortion ban, the Life at Conception Act, that would officially enshrine this position into law. Although reproductive rights advocates warn that type of legislation would also outlaw some forms of contraception, Paul has maintained that he’s not against birth control.
Two years ago, in an interview with CNN, Paul struggled to answer the same question. Asked to clarify whether his proposed Life at Conception Act would include any exceptions, Paul responded, “I don’t know if there’s a simple way to put me in a category on any of that.” He went on to acknowledge that there are “thousands of extraneous situations where the life of the mother is involved and other things that are involved” and “I would say that each individual case would have to be addressed.”
Clarifying whether abortion restrictions should include any exceptions for rape, incest, or life endangerment has become a politically difficult spot for Republicans. Major pro-life advocacy groups pressure lawmakers to take a hard-line stance on abortion that doesn’t allow for any “loopholes,” which they say can be too easily manipulated by women who may lie about being raped. However, the vast majority of Americans support abortion access for rape victims, and Democrats are quick to construe their GOP colleagues as callous when they craft policies that would force those women to carry their pregnancies to term.
At the beginning of this year, abortion opponents suffered a setback when Republicans canceled a vote on a proposed 20-week abortion ban because of infighting about the bill’s rape exception. Many of the GOP congresswomen who withdrew their support from that measure said they were worried that such a narrow exception would alienate young female voters. The conflict was widely described as “embarrassing” for the party, and right-wing activists said they felt betrayed.
According to the Associated Press, Paul “got testy” when he was asked to further clarify his stance on this topic. “I think the most important thing is the general concept of: Do you support the sanctity of life?” he said. “I’ve supported both bills with and without (exceptions), you know. In general, I am pro-life. So I will support legislation that advances and shows that life is special and deserves protection.”
Although Paul is often referred to as a staunch libertarian, his positions on reproductive rights don’t align with the Libertarian Party — whose official platform states that “we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.”
Paul has rebuffed arguments that a wave of state-level abortion restrictions have compromised women’s personal liberty. Last year, the Republican lawmaker declared, “If there was a war on women, I think they won…The women in my family are doing great.”