WASHINGTON — When GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul says that he is pro-life, it’s personal.
As a medical student, Paul walked in on a late-term abortion in progress. The Texas Congressman and former obstetrician-gynecologist has recalled many times the shock of seeing a baby placed in a bucket that was put in a corner and ignored until the child died.
“I walked down the hallway and [another] baby was born early — slightly bigger than the baby they put in the bucket, and they wanted to save this baby,” he recalled in a campaign ad. “So they might have had 10 doctors in there doing everything conceivable [to save that baby’s life].
“Who are we to decide that we pick and throw one away and pick up and struggle to save the other ones?” Paul continued. “Unless we resolve this and understand that life is precious and we must protect life, we can’t protect liberty.”
Although Paul has not only declared his pro-life views but has also delivered more than 4,000 babies, his relationship with the pro-life movement is nevertheless often strained.
A libertarian with a strong Tea Party following, Paul believes that the federal government has exceeded its constitutional limits. He sees abortion as an issue that should be dealt with only on the state level, a stance that has led him to vote against legislation supported by the pro-life movement.
“It isn’t his libertarianism that keeps him from voting for (some) federal pro-life legislation. It’s his constitutionalism,” said economist Thomas Woods, a senior fellow at the libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute, which supports free markets.
For example, Paul voted against the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act that requires out-of-state abortionists to notify parents of a minor about an abortion, and the Child Custody Protection Act, which would have made it a federal crime to take a minor across a state border to obtain abortion.
Also on the basis of federalism, Paul cast a vote against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act that would have treated a child in the womb as a murder victim if he died while a federal crime was being committed.
“While Dr. Paul is a solid, pro-life obstetrician who has delivered thousands of babies, his belief that the issue of abortion should be solely addressed on the state level should give all pro-lifers grave concern,” said James Graham, executive director of Texas Right to Life.
“Abortion — like polygamy or slavery — is not an issue that needs to be or can be exclusively addressed on the state level,” Graham continued. “Furthermore, the last time that view was embraced about a major social issue our nation was plunged into the Civil War. If the right to life is not a federal issue, what is?”
Paul has signed the Susan B. Anthony List’s Pro-Life Leadership Pledge, however, which is considered an important indication of pro-life bona fides.
“Rep. Paul has made his pro-life position one of prominence in his race for the White House, and we trust that, if elected president, Mr. Paul would continue the fight at a federal level by appointing strict constructionist judges to the Supreme Court, working to defund Planned Parenthood and advancing a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.
“As a physician,” Dannenfelser added, “few know better than Ron Paul the horrors of abortion: that is, the taking of innocent life. This experience gives him firsthand knowledge of why this election is a must-win for the pro-life movement and that President Barack Obama, the most pro-abortion president in history, must be defeated.”
Paul, 76, was brought up a Lutheran but raised his children in the Episcopal Church. Paul and his wife, Carol, however, decided to leave the Episcopal Church in large part over the issue of abortion. (The Episcopal Church says that it is acceptable for a woman to terminate a pregnancy under certain circumstances.) The Pauls now attend the First Baptist Church in Lake Jackson, Texas.
Paul’s libertarian philosophy also informs his views on same-sex “marriage” and human embryonic stem-cell research.
He said on the floor of Congress that “questions relating to ethical dilemmas” of embryonic stem-cell research should be resolved at the state level, but he opposes federal funding for both embryonic- and adult stem-cell research.
While Paul has written that he opposes “federal efforts to redefine marriage as something other than a union between one man and one woman,” he does not believe the issue should be decided on a federal level. Paul does not support a constitutional amendment to ban homosexual “marriage.”
Paul pushes the envelope on the issue of marriage as a whole: He thinks that, ideally, it should not be a matter for state or federal government. He believes marriage is a religious issue that should not be licensed by the state. He believes, however, that homosexual couples should be allowed to “marry,” as long as one state isn’t required to recognize unions recognized in other states.
“It makes no sense to talk about getting government out of the marriage business,” said Maggie Gallagher, co-founder and immediate past chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, “which is the main way we protect and nurture children.”
“When marriage declines, children suffer, and so do taxpayers — to the tune of $112 billion a year. I wish more of our candidates would think more seriously about marriage and the supporting role government should play in reducing divorce and unmarried childbearing,” Gallagher said.
While Rick Perry was dealing with a mental block during the recent CNBC debate for the name of the third cabinet-level federal agency he would get rid of as president, Paul, standing next to the Texas governor, urged Perry that five — not three — federal agencies need to go.
Paul has put forward the most far-reaching economic program of all the GOP candidates. His “Plan to Restore America” argues that the United States is “in crisis” because the country has “drifted far from our founding principles” of individual liberty, free markets and constitutional government.
Paul aims to balance the budget and return the country to 2006 levels of federal spending in the first year of a Paul presidency. To achieve this, Paul proposes to cut $1 trillion in federal spending immediately through eliminating the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, the Interior, and Education. He would return Medicare and Medicaid to the states in the form of block grants, thus removing them from federal purview.
Woods believes that the Paul plan is the best hope of restoring economic opportunity. Woods jokes that he longs to see Paul grab the microphone in a GOP debate and say he has a “ ‘1-1-1 plan’ — one trillion dollars cut in one year, yielding one restored economy.’”
As GOP debate watchers know, Paul is a relentless critic of the Federal Reserve, and, though he would not be able to eliminate it as president, he would conduct a thorough audit of it. The plan calls for sound monetary policy but does not mention the gold standard, though Paul has written articles supportive of it.
“We are living through a world historic moment,” Woods said. “Sovereign debt crises are exploding around the world. Debt and spending are choking off prosperity. The world’s central banks, supposedly a source of stability, have given the world repeated cycles of boom and bust. Gimmicky tax-reform plans and a few repealed regulations simply do not cut it at a time like this.”
“We need major reforms,” said Martin Neil Baily, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, “but I don’t think anybody, including Ron Paul, has explained how to do it in a way acceptable to the American people.”
In another example of boldness, Paul would cut the defense budget, end foreign aid and close the Transportation Security Administration, returning airport to security to private property owners.
Although Paul has said he would like to end the federal income tax and abolish the Internal Revenue Service, he doesn’t go that far in the plan. He would extend the Bush tax cuts, end the estate tax and taxes on personal savings.
The plan only calls for a reduction of corporate taxes (to 15%) and would allow companies that have been doing business abroad to bring their money back into the U.S. without additional taxation.
Paul believes that excessive regulation is strangling the economy, and he would cancel “onerous regulations” through an executive order and work to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (widely dubbed Obamacare) and Dodd-Frank, which added a new layer of regulations to the financial industry.
Many people concerned about the poor might question cutting entitlements and returning Medicare and Medicaid to the states, where, ultimately, libertarians like Paul believe they should be replaced by private charity. “I admire Ron Paul’s courage,” said Baily of the Brookings Institution, “but I don’t think he has a plan that would reform care for the elderly and bring costs down to a lower level.”
Woods disagrees. A convert to Catholicism who wrote an “open letter” to Catholics in support of Paul during the 2008 presidential campaign, Woods noted that when Paul was a physician it was a rule in his practice that the poor were treated free of charge and that Paul believes more physicians would do this in the absence of giant federal programs.
“Ron Paul believes in subsidiarity,” Woods said, “which is a central principle of Catholic social thought. Subsidiarity holds that all social functions should be carried out by the most local unit possible instead of by the dehumanizing alternative of distant bureaucratic structures.”
“As a physician who has seen firsthand how the doctor-patient relationship has been compromised and diminished by government and bureaucracy, he is in a good position to oversee a transition to a freer and more affordable system,” Woods said. He said that Paul believes that without the encumbrances of government regulations physicians would be “more willing to do pro bono work, as they once did as a matter of routine.”
But economist Ed Lotterman, who writes the “Real-World Economics” column that appears in The St. Paul Pioneer-Press and three other newspapers, is skeptical.
“You have doctors saying that: ‘Medicare reimbursements are not high enough, so we aren’t going to treat Medicare patients.’ I don’t see doctors doing things for free,” he said. “When I was a kid, there were people with serious diseases, and you’d hear the phrase ‘They just can’t afford an operation.’ This was a reality, and it could be a reality again.”
A former regional economist at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, Lotterman also is wary of Paul’s antagonism towards the Federal Reserve. Lotterman says a modern economy needs a lender of last resort.
And Baily, of Brookings, worries that Paul isn’t pragmatic enough to be president. “If you contrast him with Ronald Reagan, who came to prominence with an ideological stance, but when he came to office was relatively pragmatic, you wonder if Ron Paul would be willing to compromise. Reagan was successful because he was willing to compromise. I don’t see that in Ron Paul, who seems to be ideologically driven.”
Baily also says that going on the gold standard would “put U.S. monetary policy in the hands of a global commodity over which we have no control.”
Woods says Paul is not calling for a return to the gold standard — though they both believe that would be a vast improvement over the current system — but, rather, a genuine free-market system in which the dollar would not enjoy the various privileges it does now. Precious metals and the paper dollar could coexist on a level playing field, thereby maximizing people’s choices and protecting people from the consequences of a sharp fall in the dollar.
However, in Woods’ opinion, Paul’s boldness could be a solution to our current economic woes. “You have to rip the band-aid off instead of picking at it for 20 years,” he said. “Let’s just do what needs to be done now.”
Register correspondent Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.
The Register has been profiling candidates who are vying for the White House in 2012: