Analysis: Is Scott Walker Wimpy on the Abortion Issue?

Governor Scott Walker, R-Wis., waves as he arrives to speak at the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26, 2015.
Governor Scott Walker, R-Wis., waves as he arrives to speak at the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26, 2015. | (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

Pro-lifers are concerned about the commitment of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, to ending abortion.


"Do you believe," Wallace asked, "that a woman has a right to end a pregnancy at any point during those nine months?"

Walker answered that he's pro-life "because that's an unborn child," and talked about viewing the ultrasound of his first son.

"My point is," he continued, "we acted on the grounds that we have, legally, to be able to act under the Supreme Court's decision. We'll act that way at the federal level if we're in a position like that, as well. But ultimately, it is a life."

Wallace pressed further: "But ultimately it's her choice?"

"Well, legally, that's what it is under the guidelines that was provided from the Supreme Court," Walker answered.

After Wallace asked if he would work to change the law, Walker responded, "that's not a change you can make. The Supreme Court ultimately has made that."

"I believe in the right to life and I believe that there are other things that can be done at both the state and the federal level," he added.

At first glance, Walker's interview appears uncontroversial. He noted that he's pro-life and was correct in saying that the Supreme Court has ruled that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

Future presidents will, however, have opportunities to change the Supreme Court through their appointments, and a future court could overturn Roe vs. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion. And while presidents do not have an official role in amending the Constitution, they can encourage Congress and the states to support an amendment to overturn Roe.

On Tuesday, Students for Life posted a photo of Walker on its Facebook wall with the message: "Gov. Walker, Just a refresher on civics: Actually there is 'a change you can make' as president to overturn Roe v. Wade —appoint pro-life justices."

To further understand why pro-lifers were dismayed with the interview, it also helps to first understand what pro-lifers are looking for in a presidential candidate.

The problem with Walker's answers were not that they were wrong, necessarily, but they were wimpy. The pro-life community doesn't just want a candidate that will take on the pro-life label; they want a candidate that will advocate for the cause.

The inside joke among pro-lifers about former President George H. W. Bush was that "he walked the walk but he didn't talk the talk." Concerns about Walker are in that same vein.

While Walker is certainly pro-life, he hasn't put much effort into convincing others of his position. Indeed, in the election ad that Wallace mentioned, Walker appeared to signal to voters that he would not do much on the abortion front if he were elected. His FNS interview was consistent with that pattern.

Shane Vander Hart, founder and editor-in-chief of Caffeinated Thoughts, put it this way: "We'd like to see [Walker] fight on these issues with the same passion he fought to reform public pensions and public union laws in Wisconsin. Compared to life and marriage, that fight pales in comparison. Governor, take your own advice when considering these issues — 'Go big and go bold.'"

In a Monday statement, Frank Cannon, president of American Principles Project, encouraged Walker to back a 20-week abortion ban, legislation that has been passed in many states and is known as the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in Congress.

After calling his FNS appearance the "very worst interview on the life issue," Cannon said, "Claiming you are impotent to act on your core principles is neither true nor wise. What about advocating for a ban on abortions after 20 weeks? That's a law that has already been passed in 12 states, which the Republican National Committee endorses, and which most of his fellow presumptive Republican presidential candidates also support, Jeb Bush included."

In response to the controversy, Walker released a statement saying he supports a 20-week ban. The fact that it took him this long, and in response to a controversy, to make such a statement is telling in itself.

Bans on late-term abortions get majority support, polls consistently show. A July 2013 HuffPost/YouGov poll, for instance, showed that 59 percent of Americans support a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Late term abortion bans have been one of the primary fronts in the battle to end abortion for at least two years. Why did it take Walker this long to even announce his position?

Additionally, Walker continued to demonstrate a passivity on abortion in the letter announcing his position. Walker didn't even encourage the Wisconsin legislature to pass a 20-week ban. Instead, he wrote that such a ban is "likely to come to my desk" and "I will sign that bill when it gets to my desk ...."

Wimpy, indeed.

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