George Pyle: Anti-abortion is a long way from pro-life

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, second from left, answers a question during a panel of gubernatorial candidates at the annual Utah Eagle Forum convention in Sandy, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020.

It is a rhetorical non sequitur that has been the butt of so many jokes and the punch line of so many cartoons over the years that one might think that intelligent politicians and activists would have abandoned it long ago.


In fact it was apparently the centerpiece of the governor’s candidate forum at last week’s convention of the far-right Eagle Forum. There, people seeking both to be governor and to have the blessing of the state shrinking but still very active ultra-conservative group competed for the most blatant application of it.

That’s the idea that modern conservatives and 21st century Republicans get to call themselves “pro-life” when they are clearly nothing of the sort. When they stand the battlements against abortion but do nothing to protect the lives of those already born.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former House Speaker Greg Hughes, former Republican Party State Chairman Thomas Wright and businessman Jeff Burningham jostled one another for the right to be the most irrational on questions of life, death and freedom.

Conservatives these days are all about freedom of choice, parental rights and family independence, except when the question is abortion. And they are all for more pollution, less health care and unregulated psychological quackery, because the thing the state isn’t interfering with in all those cases is not abortion.

Cox compared legal abortion to slavery. Not, to be fair to him, that it was as bad as slavery. Just that it is something that, generations hence, we might look back on the way modern Americans look back on slavery.

Except, to look at some of the Facebook posts from supporters of the sitting president of the United States (Cox is not one of those), not everyone around here thinks the end of slavery was such an accomplishment. And except that an end to legal abortion, while it wouldn’t by itself be akin to slavery, would and could have absolutely no alternative but to assign women second-class citizenship.

Hughes said, "I want to live in a country, and I want to live in a culture and community, where we value life and we don’t apologize for it.”

Which is really rich, coming from the guy whose parting gift to Utah as he left the Legislature was the creation of the inland port, a project designed to increase pollution and shorten life spans for folks along the Wasatch Front airshed.

Hughes was also the primary executioner of both the Utah application of the Affordable Care Act and Gov. Gary Herbert’s somewhat more insurance-industry friendly alternative, Healthy Utah. Those are stands that also threaten people’s lives.

So, anti-abortion? Sure. Pro-life? Not really.

Candidates also sought to curry favor with Eagle Forum believers by waffling on the question of whether the state should ban the discredited — if not downright evil — practice of conversion therapy. That’s the medical malpractice that purports to change gay people straight, though it is about as likely to turn them suicidal.

The argument against the ban is that families, not the government, should make that decision. And there was far too much wobbliness on the matter of making vaccinations mandatory, again on the belief that individual households, not the state, should make that choice.

So why are parents allowed to endanger their children by subjecting them to psychological torture, or permitted to endanger whole communities by turning their backs on the greatest medical invention in human history, but not able to make the most personal and intimate choice of whether or not to become a parent?

Beyond pure hypocrisy, the most obvious answer is paternalism. Abortion is a choice that can be, should be, must be, up to a woman, on the advice of whomever she pleases. Those other things being left to “the family” is likely code for being left to the father. The man. The Head of the Household.

The increasing number of women in elective office around the country (though not, yet, in Utah) strikes me as being the result of more voters siding with level-headed Mom over doofy Dad as the right person to run things.

Sounds about right to me.

George Pyle

George Pyle is the editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune.


Twitter, @debatestate