What is the basis for calling pro-life "conservative"?

In keeping with the understanding that conservatism advocates a more government-hands-off policy, it appears to me that the people who favor anti-abortion legislature should actually be considered liberals, and yet they are considered conservatives. Why exactly is this so?

“Keep the government out of our lives as much as possible” seems to be the credo of many self-identified conservatives, especially when gun-control and welfare come up in conversation. And yet this idea seems to be discarded when abortion and drug legalization are being discussed.

Why is it “conservative” to fear the government in matters concerning gun ownership, but “liberal” to fear the government in matters concerning personal autonomy? And what does this apparent inconsistency say about the way in which conservatives and liberals formulate their beliefs?

Who says “conservatism” means a government hand-off policy?

“Conservatism” generally means a political viewpoint of opposing change, or supporting traditional methods of governance. It is therefore possible that the “conservative” element in a country could, in fact, support government interventionism. For instance, Soviets who opposed glasnost and perestroika were conservative.

In the United States, “self-identified conservatives” often aren’t really “conservative” at all. “Conservative” in the U.S. has become a synonym for a list of issues, though there’s a few subgroups of conservative. Similarly, “liberal” means a different list of issues, though again there’s room for some variations on th theme. What Americans call “liberals” support some conservative positions, and what Americans call “conservatives” support a number of liberal positions.

I don’t see this stance as an inconsistency because of a tenet of the overall view of “conservative” nature, which is to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. The issue of “government intrusion” goes against that particular aspect of conservatism because, again, unless one person wrongs another, there ought not to be any government involvement in his/her life.

The same applies to gun ownership. The Constitution affords us this right as citizens, so why should we accept otherwise? Regulation is acceptable (and neccessary), but anything the government can regulate, it can remove. Conservatives are wary of this, and generally scream any time a new “gun law” is enacted.

Then, there’s the morality issue. Generally speaking, conservatives tend to embrace issues that have moral connotations, such as religion and spirituality, but reject issues that seem to be “immoral” such as those you mentioned, abortion and drug legalization.

One’s stance on a “hands-off” attitude towards the government is not a clear watermark of conservatism or liberalism. You should look at what that “hands-off” policy is actually doing. Is it preventing the government from infringing on people’s rights, or is it preventing the government from ensuring them?

Roe v. Wade was a governmental decision to legalize abortion in 1973. The federal government was required to provide funding for abortions for poor women (through Medicare or Medicaid, IIRC) until the Hyde amendment a few years later. Now we have parental notification and consent laws, legislation against intact dilation and extraction (or “partial birth abortion”, as opponents like to call it, except in Virginia where it’s “partial birth infanticide”), gag rules, &c. and so on.

What this kind of legislation is doing, essentially, is rolling back a woman’s right to abortion, bit by bit and piece by piece, to a point where abortions are again illegal or might as well be. It’s not eliminating the government’s involvement while leaving an individual woman’s right to an abortion untouched. Opposition to abortion, up to and including abolition, is part and parcel of the conservative agenda. Anti-abortion legislation has that goal in mind, therefore support of anti-abortion legislation (which erodes women’s rights to it through preventing the government’s involvement to ensure that right) is conservative.

by Rick Jay:

There is, of course, no written rule that says conservatives push for less government intervention. But that’s what they often rally for. “Big Government” is portrayed as being the goal of the liberal-minded and thus, worthy of great loathing. Every campaign year we hear promises of smaller government, and usually these promises are coming from self-identified conservatives. Not liberals.

If conservatism means to oppose change, then this is another reason why pro-life should be seen as a more liberal discontent-with-the-status quo idea. If conservatism means supporting traditional methods of governance, what are those methods and why do they disallow for abortion?

Right-conservatives prefer less government on economic issues, but want more government in personal matters (e.g., so that the government can defend the community from threats to its moral fiber).

Left-Liberals prefer less government in personal matters, but prefer more government (e.g., central decision-making) on economic matters. They want government to serve the disadvantaged in the name of fairness.

Thus, you can see how a conservative wants to regulate abortion, which is not an economic matter.

Why do the parties choose different areas in which to apply their government? I suspect they want to hang around the American centrist position, but they have to have some differences. If they were consistent, they would be one of the following:

Libertarians are the only part which really wants less government all around (e.g., in both personal and economic matters). They believe government’s only purpose is to protect people from coercion and violence. They value individual responsibility, and tolerate economic and social diversity.

Authoritarians want government to advance society and individuals through expert central planning in all areas. Left-authoritarians are also called socialists, while right-authoritarians are also called fascists.

Go to this site and find out what you are: World’s Smallest Political Quiz

That’s just the Republican’s trying to frame the poltical debate and steal some appeal from libertarian-leaning folks (like Thomas Jefferson). Ask Mr. Ashcroft if he’s for less government, and you will see what I mean. The Republicans try to downplay their efforts to get into your bedrooms with hidden cameras during the elections. :stuck_out_tongue:

I guess when it’s economics, it’s Big Government, and when it’s personal issues, it’s Big Brother. Either way, Libertarians are the only ones who uniformly oppose it.

I think that also pretty much explains why the government flip-flops every so often between the major parties. Occasionally, one power gets too big a head, and starts ramming their brand of big government down the people’s throats because they think they have a mandate. Winning both houses and the presidency sealed the deal: The Democrats will win big next time unless al Queda does something to keep the Republicans in power.

I’d like to clarify Olentzero’s point that the abortion laws actually restrict a woman’s ability to have an abortion, simply because SCOTUS’ other post-Roe decisions leave too many backdoors for the laws to be effective. For example, parental notification laws can be circumvented by a SCOTUS-mandated exception that a judge can bypass it on a showing of necessity. (A Detroit judge spoke at my school last year on the topic, and discussed how ridiculously easy it is for a pregnant teenager to get the bypass.)

The bigger backdoor is from Roe’s companion case, Doe v. Bolton, which gave the SCOTUS-mandated health exception for abortion laws a broad definition. In other words, any law restricting abortion must have a “for the health of the mother” exception, but “health” can basically include anything, including “mental discomfort.” For all intents and purposes, this means that a doctor can simply assert that a pregnancy will be bad for the woman’s health, and her abortion can and will go unchallenged.

Great ideas so far.Thanks.

il Topo your explanation seems to capture of the spirit of American political ideologies pretty well, except it seems that right-conservatives should favor gun-control, because that has strong social implications. Perhaps its just a matter of personal perspective, but I would be more fearful of someone who owned a dozen assault rifles than someone who enjoys the occasional blunt, and for that reason I’d prefer gun-control over criminalized marijuana. So maybe MAV has a point:

It’s determining who’s innocent and who’s guilty (in a moral not legal sense) that is subject to change. Will the conservatives of today see drug-users as “guilty” and gun-owners as “innocent” tomorrow? Or is it quite possible that fifty years from now, self-identified liberals will rally behind the same causes that today’s conservatives claim as their own?

I think it is.

They are opposing change - that really big one made possible by Roe v. Wade.

ResIpsaLoquitur - at last check, only 14% of US counties overall had clinics that provided abortion services. How useful could the bypasses be for a working woman who lives two counties away from the closest clinic and can’t get the time off from work without losing pay, or possibly her job?


Now you’re raising a separate, non-sequitur issue: legal restrictions (and their effectiveness) on abortion has nothing to do with the availability of abortion. The issue there isn’t whether the woman has a legal right to an abortion in every case, but whether she can actually obtain one. All Roe and its progeny stand for is that the government can’t get in the way of a person’s ability to get an abortion–they don’t mean that the government is also obligated to assist in obtaining them. In fact, SCOTUS has ruled on this as well (the case names escape me at the moment)–there’s no equal protection violation if, say, a government provides funding to, say, crisis pregnancy centers but not to abortion clinics.

In other words, the state of the law doesn’t matter to, say, a pregnant teenager in Nowhere, Montana, who’s a six hour drive from the nearest abortion clinic and can’t get time off from work or school (although it sounds to me like that’s a problem between her and her employer, not her and the government). Have you also considered that there’s an increasing shortage of doctors willing to perform abortions, and many of them are hitting retirement age? If Roe stands for personal autonomy, then the result is that legally, the woman can have an abortion, but the government doesn’t have to provide it and a doctor doesn’t have to perform it.

you with the face…
I tend to believe that most Conservatives are as probably agog over the views of their rank and file extremists as are the Liberals…And I know this is not going to go over very good here, but a traditonal Republican simply couldn’t accrue enough votes in an national election without kowtowing to the the rightest element to win the presidency…cause we’s all pro choice liberals at heart.

Not to nitpick this further, but it’s Medicaid that would fund most abortions for poor women. Medicare, for those under 65, is by and large for the disabled.

That said, the Hyde amendment forbids federal dollars from paying for abortion. It also includes federal insurance programs like those for federal employees and the military insurance program (and military healthcare facilities) from covering elective abortions. People covered under these programs are perfectly free to have them, but they have to pay cash or use another insurance policy that does cover them.

State dollars, on the other hand, can and do pay for abortion services under Medicaid. California is an example of one such state.


If you are fearful of lawful gun owners, you must be pretty afraid of the government, then. They have lots of them.

Agreed. The parties have flip-flopped before.

My earlier post didn’t address your question, face.

Regarding your alleged inconsistency on gun control, I agree. How do we get the Democrats to change their minds and go for less government on that personal matter?

Of note, the Libertarians list both the ACLU and the NRA as civil libertarian organizations. I always thought the stereotypical card-carrying members of each of those organizations would be surprised at that.

I have only one minor contribution to the abortion debate, a point I’ve not heard anyone else ever say…

Suppose, just for kicks, that, back in the 1960’s, Liberals had decided that abortion was bad. “Every child should be loved,” “every potential should be cherished,” etc. And suppose that conservatives had decided that a woman has property rights over her own body, and thus abortion is a right.

It could have come about that the conservative view was pro-choice (or pro-property) and that they de-emphasized the notion of the unborn being a “person.” It could have come about that the liberal view was pro-life.

It’s just the way the chips happen to fall, sometimes.


Conservatives have also traditionally been part of the state’s rights crowd, and Roe represents the federal government telling the states what it can and cannot allow in it’s laws and police enforcement.

by il Topo

Me too. I can’t think of any self-identified conservatives who extol the virtues of the ACLU, but many enthusiatically applaud NRA. Don’t both organizations claim to uphold the Constitution? Why the inconsistency?

I think this is a case of “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…” I.e. the thing is defined by it’s behavior, not by conforming to some “definition.”

When we say “conservative” or “liberal” in this country, we’re not talking about classical political-science definitions like “Liberalism”… We’re using shorthand to describe groups with some semblance of commonly held beliefs. I.e. there is no “definition;” the beliefs ARE the definition and it’s amorphous and subject to change… Just look at how the “liberal” democrats were, until 40-50 years ago, the leading proponents of segregation…

So my view is that “conservative” is shorthand for a group of people with – generally – similar views on various issues. One of these is, typically, being pro-life on the abortion issue. Another is minimizing government wherever possible/desirable. Another is support of right to bear arms, etc. etc. Not all “Conservatives” support ALL these agendas. There are liberals with conservative viewpoints and vice-versa.

So I’d say “Pro-Life” is thought of as a conservative stance only because we as a society have MADE it part of the definition of conservative.

Of course, the “conservative” is an archetype. You’d probably be hard-pressed to find one individual that supports EVERY agenda we perceive as conservative and opposes EVERY agenda we perceive as liberal.