Monday, November 1, 2010

When Politicians Are Forced to Answer Yes/No Questions: A Candidate Responds

On October 8, 2010, in a post entitled “When Politicians Are Forced to Answer Yes/No Questions”, I posted a series of videos from the yes/no “lightning round” of a forum for candidates for the Indiana General Assembly. The second video showed candidates responding to the question: “Would you require a woman who is raped to carry the fetus to term?”


(For the other videos and information about the candidates, please see the original post.)

Anyway, last night, one of those candidates, Clint Fultz (fifth from the left), the Republican challenger for Indiana House District 94, left a comment in which he endeavored to explain his answer:

I am Clint Fultz candidate for Indiana House 94. The lightning round left no time for full thought. As to the abortion question, I said yes. Let me differentiate. If there IS proof of rape I would allow the termination of the pregnancy within the first 8 weeks. If all that we have is a claim of rape and no proof, then I would require carriage to term. [link to Mr. Fultz’s campaign website omitted]

Rather than simply respond to Mr. Fultz in another comment to the original post, I thought that it was worth highlighting his comment and explanation and posting my response.

First, I’m sorry that Mr. Fultz thought that the lightning did not leave time for “full thought”. However, it appears to me that the purpose of the lightning round was to elicit yes or no responses, without opportunity for political doublespeak or talking points, and with questions that seemed framed to get to the heart of where candidates stand on certain fundamental, core principles. In that, I think that the lightning round was a complete success.

With regard to the “abortion question”, I suspect that I’m safe to conclude that Mr. Fultz has never been raped, let alone impregnated by his assailant and thus, like me, he cannot possibly comprehend what it must be like for a woman to be raped. Yet he has no problem essentially ignoring the incredible trauma of the rape, not to mention the life-altering consequences of carrying a fetus to term, in order to impose his particular viewpoint upon the victim of the crime.

I note that the “differentiation” that Mr. Fultz seeks to draw depends upon “PROOF” (his emphasis) of the rape; he goes on to say, quite specifically, that a claim, without proof, would be insufficient for the victim to choose to have an abortion. How, precisely, is the woman, within those first eight weeks, supposed to come up with the proof and to whom does she have to prove it? Does Mr. Fultz suggest creating “abortion panels” before whom a raped woman must appear? What “proof” would there be of a woman who submitted to the rape of an attacker because he held a gun to her head? I wonder if Mr. Fultz has any idea that only about 16% of rapes are even reported to police, often because of the identity of the attacker or because of the trauma of the crime. And note further his word choice: Mr. Fultz “would allow” the termination of the pregnancy. How kind of him to “allow” the woman to make that choice.

One other thing worth noting: As I’ve discussed here before (see, e.g., “Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State's Laws”), different faiths have different understandings of when life beings. Mr. Fultz may oppose abortion in part upon his belief that life begins at conception and on that basis he and his spouse could choose not to have an abortion. However, the Jewish viewpoint (and it is worth remembering that the candidate forum was sponsored by the Indiana Jewish Community Relations Council) is that a fetus is not a person. According to the Talmud, the fetus is deemed to be a component of the pregnant woman's body, no different from her thigh. According to Indianapolis Rabbi Dennis Sasso (from his 2006 testimony to the Indiana House of Representatives):

Writing into state law what is essentially the doctrinal view of a particular segment of the faith community would impair the freedom of religion of Hoosier citizens whose religious traditions and ethical stances call them to a different understanding of when does human personhood begin. It is regrettable use of political and religious ideology to trump science, threaten pluralism, assault tolerance and encroach on the privacy of citizens.

The issue is not "When does life begin?" Life exists even before conception. The sperm is life. The ovum is life. Every cell and organism is a living entity. Adherents of the Eastern faith, Jainism, gently sweep the path in front of them as they walk in order to avoid stepping on living creatures.

The issue is not "when does life begin", but when is human personhood, that intangible moral and legal category upon which hinge so many privileges and responsibilities of identity and citizenship, established. And on this issue, science offers no answers and theologians and ethicists have and will continue to differ.

While some people of faith may choose to affirm that human personhood begins at conception, at the moment when the ovum and sperm meet, Judaism affirms that personhood begins at birth. In a contest between the fetus and the mother, the Jewish moral tradition will not only permit, but require, that preference be given to the mother.

Until birth, while the fetus is certainly to be cherished and protected, it is not considered an independent legal entity. Judaism honors and protects the fetus. Ours is a tradition that celebrates parenthood and family, but in a contest between the embryo or the fetus and the mother, Judaism preeminently protects the rights of the mother as a viable human person. Both her physiological and psychological needs are to be given preferential status over the rights of the developing fetus.

So perhaps Mr. Fultz can explain to me how, if elected, he would be qualified to tell a woman, especially a woman with a different understanding of core concepts of life and conception, whether her “proof” of a rape is sufficient to allow her to seek an abortion. And perhaps Mr. Fultz can explain, with specificity, all of the tools that he thinks that the State of Indiana should offer that woman to ease the trauma of the rape, care for her during her pregnancy (would he support the use of state funds to pay for prenatal care?), compensate the woman for the enormous changes in her life that being a mother (even if the child is placed for adoption) will entail, and, most importantly, perhaps, the extent to which the State should be responsible for the care of the child that is the product of the violent crime.

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