WASHINGTON — All GOP presidential hopefuls are in the pro-life camp, but Rick Santorum is routinely hailed by pro-lifers as “a hero.”

As a member of the U.S. Senate from 1995 until 2007, Santorum was the prime author and champion of key pro-life bills, including the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, a ban on partial-birth abortion, and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which makes it a separate crime if an unborn child is harmed or killed during the commission of a stipulated list of federal crimes.

Santorum not only has signed the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life Presidential Pledge, but he has helped raise money for that organization, too.

Santorum believes that abortion is never justified, including in cases of rape or incest. During a Republican presidential debate last summer in Ames, Iowa, when panelist Byron York noted that many Americans favor abortion under certain circumstances, Santorum didn’t flinch or back off from his uncompromising position.

“You know, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a recent case, said that a man who committed rape could not be killed, would not be subjected to the death penalty; yet the child conceived as a result of that rape could be,” he said. “That sounds to me like a country that doesn’t have its morals correct. That child did nothing wrong. That child is an innocent victim.”

“What I can tell you about Rick Santorum,” said Maria Vitale Gallagher of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, “is that he has been pro-life not only in the public sphere, but in his private life. His pro-life witness is phenomenal.”

“He’s very pro-life and a good man,” said David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee. “As a family, the Santorums have faced challenges, and they have risen to these challenges and are a great family and a great couple.”

Family Life

The challenges to which O’Steen and others interviewed for this story referred concern two of the Santorum children. Shortly after Santorum led the fight against partial-birth abortion, his wife, Karen, a nurse, learned that the child she was carrying had a genetic defect.

The Santorums, who are Catholic, were urged to end the pregnancy. They refused. Their son, Gabriel, was born on Oct. 11, 1996, five months before his due date, and lived just two hours.

After Gabriel died in the hospital, the Santorums took their child home briefly so that their other children could meet their brother. “We wanted them to know that there was a baby and that his life was precious and that baby in the womb was real,” Santorum said in an interview on CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Karen Santorum wrote a book, Letters to Gabriel, about the loss of the baby. The foreword to the book was by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. In the book, Karen admitted that the death was “a terrible nightmare,” but also wrote to Gabriel that “the only reassurance for your daddy and me is our faith in God. I have learned to surrender even more to his protection and care.”

The second challenge came when the Santorums learned that another child would be born with a rare condition called Trisomy 18, which can cause heart defects, failure to grow normally and other problems. Most children with Trisomy 18, in which there are three No. 18 chromosomes rather than the normal two, die soon after being born, with only about 10% surviving past the first year. But those who make it past this benchmark sometimes attain adulthood.

Isabella Santorum was born in 2008. A doctor treating Isabella, then in hospice care, told the couple that their best hope was that a cold or some other minor illness would carry her off. The Santorums decided to remove their daughter from hospice so they could find doctors who would work to keep her alive.

Santorum later wrote a column for The Philadelphia Inquirer detailing how difficult it was to find doctors who were able to see Isabella as “a wanted and loved daughter and sister, as well as a beautiful gift from God,” rather than a disabled child waiting to die. Santorum addressed Isabella by name at the end of one GOP debate, telling his daughter that he would catch a late flight home to be with her. He also mentioned her and his other children in his speech on the night of the Iowa caucuses.

The Marriage Issue

Santorum has been similarly staunch in taking a stand against same-sex “marriage,” which has earned him the enmity of homosexual-activist groups. One homosexual activist, Dan Savage, held a contest to see who could come up with a sexually explicit term to be called a “santorum.”  The Internet search engine company Google has refused to remove the ugly neologism.

“Rick Santorum has been a hero of the movement in every sense on marriage, life and religious liberty. No one has been braver or taken more hits for his courage than Rick,” said Maggie Gallagher, co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage.

For Santorum, the issues of marriage and abortion aren’t just social issues — they spill over into his economic philosophy.

“You cannot have limited government if you have broken families, because someone has to pick up the pieces; and the ones who pick up the pieces are the taxpayers,” Santorum has said.

While some argue that an emphasis on social issues is detrimental to a politician’s chances of being elected, Santorum on Dec. 20 got two endorsements from family-issues leaders that some said could provide the boost he needed in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses to make him a first-tier candidate.

Santorum ended up a handful of votes away from first place, which was won by Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor won 24.6% of the vote in the nation’s first presidential election-year contest, while Santorum won 24.5%.

Santorum was endorsed by Bob Vander Plaats, a leading Christian conservative in Iowa, and Chuck Hurley, another family-issues stalwart. Both are affiliated with The Family Leader, which Vander Plaats founded. Hurley is president of the affiliated Iowa Family Policy Center.

“We care about any issue affecting the family, from the sanctity of human life to preserving a biblical view of marriage, and even issues such as gambling and economic issues,” said Julie Summa, spokeswoman for The Family Leader.

Summa said that the board of The Family Leader unanimously supported Santorum but decided that only the two leaders, not the organization, would endorse him because some of their conservative Christian constituency supports other candidates.

“When you listen to Senator Santorum speak,” Summa added, “he ties everything back to the family, including economics. Our economy is better when we have strong families.”

After Santorum’s dazzling finish, the political action committee CatholicVote.org endorsed him. The PAC’s president, Brian Burch, told the group’s 600,000 email subscribers Jan. 4 that he wanted CatholicVote.org to endorse him “months ago,” but that “it wasn’t clear whether Santorum would get the traction he needed to compete.”

Those doubts faded Jan. 3.


As might be expected for a candidate who puts an emphasis on the responsibilities of the family, Santorum proposes shrinking the role of government. He wants to roll back regulations, which he says kill jobs, and he would reduce taxes and simplify the tax code.

Santorum supports a balanced-budget amendment as a way to force the federal government to be fiscally responsible. The Club for Growth, which supports the free market, gave Santorum a 77% favorable rating for his last two years in the Senate. This is slightly above the Club for Growth’s 73% favorable rating for Senate Republicans for the same period.

The organization had no scorecard before that, but Santorum had a cumulative favorable rating of 76% on the scorecard of the National Taxpayers Union, another limited-government group, for his career both in the Senate and before that for four years in the U.S. House of Representatives. The average National Taxpayers Union score for Republicans in both houses for the same period was 71%.

“He has, in general, an above-average voting record on taxes and deserves credit for leading the fight for welfare reform during the 1990s and similarly for leading the fight for Social Security reform in the George W. Bush years,” said Barney Keller, spokesman for the Club for Growth.

“He started off as a very strong fiscal conservative,” said Nathan Benfield, director of policy analysis at the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market group in Pennsylvania. “As a champion of welfare reform, he not only helped improve welfare programs, but he also saved money for the taxpayers. In his later years in office, he supported deficit spending.”

Santorum disappointed some small-government types with his support for what is called Medicare Part D, George W. Bush’s prescription-drug plan for older citizens. CNN reported earlier this year that Santorum now calls this vote a “mistake.” Supporters of Medicare D, arguing that it was right because it helps seniors pay for necessary medicines, would disagree. 

Santorum and free-market advocates such as the Club for Growth or Commonwealth Foundation also parted company over several of his votes against free trade. Santorum voted in 1993 against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), supported a high tariff on goods imported from China, and co-sponsored a bill to authorize tariffs on imported steel.

Benfield suggests that this might have been an almost inevitable vote because of the makeup of Santorum’s constituency, who may be socially conservative but work in manufacturing jobs and believe free trade harms them.

David Taylor, a member of the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, not unexpectedly supports Santorum’s stand on free trade. The organization doesn’t endorse candidates, but it has endorsed Santorum’s economic plan.

“We see Rick Santorum as the leader speaking most closely to what we believe and as having the most visionary plan,” said Taylor. Taylor said that three oil plants in the Philadelphia area may close, taking hundreds of jobs with them, because of a new spate of federal regulations. He believes that Santorum is the candidate most likely to roll back such regulation.

The Specter in His Past

Although Santorum has proven his bona fides in the eyes of many, some say they hold it against him that, in the 2004 Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania, Santorum supported pro-choice liberal Republican Arlen Specter, who later switched parties and became a Democrat, against Sen. Pat Toomey, a pro-life candidate.

The Bush administration threw its support behind Specter. As a leader in the Senate, Santorum was expected to do the same. 

“The thing that still irks conservatives is that Santorum went above and beyond [what was called for] to hurt Toomey’s chances,” said Pennsylvania consultant Ryan Safik, who worked on the Toomey campaign.

Toomey, who was elected to the Senate in 2010, lost to Specter by a smaller than expected margin, leaving a bitter taste for some who say that Santorum’s active support made the difference.

Quin Hillyer, a former Capitol Hill staff member, journalist and senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom, whose mission is to defend individual freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, has no such reservations.

“I value genuineness in politicians — people who are the same in public as in private,” Hillyer said. “Rick Santorum is one of the most genuine elected officials I have ever come across in Washington.”

Charlotte Hays writes from Washington. The Register has been profiling candidates

who are vying for the White House in 2012. Search for ‘Presidential Hopefuls’ at NCRegister.com.