Does Sharron Angle Believe What She Says About Abortion?

July 9, 2010

Yesterday on this blog we learned about the abortion views of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who is attempting to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. Angle has stated that abortion is always wrong, even in the case of rape and incest, and suggested that pregnancies caused by rape or incest give women a chance to make lemonade from lemons. While most response to that post relayed disgust with Angle's statements, some off-the-Web reaction posited that Angle doesn't really believe what she's saying, but instead is just using strong rhetoric to win an election.

This argument was seemingly bolstered by Angle's reaction to the legal implications of her argument on Face to Face with Jon Ralston :

Ralston : You want government to go and tell a 13-year-old child who’s been raped by her father she has to have that baby?

Angle : I didn't say that. I always say that I value life.

Angle even said she believes ideally that government should stay out of the issue of abortion. However, since the government decided to insert its control after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, she said, "I'm just defending my position." Austin Cline of the Guide to Atheism has already handled the incoherence of Angle's political position here.

Let's return to the argument that Angle doesn't really mean what she's saying, which would preempt any discussion of her incoherence (of course she's incoherent, she just saying whatever she can to win!). There are four problems with that argument. First, Angle's abortion views do not exactly strike one as odd considering the rest of her political position sheet , or some of her recent comments. Second, Nevada is not exactly full of pro-lifers. Indeed, Sen. Reid has moderated his abortion views because of polling data that has found, for instance, that 64 percent of Nevada residents identify as "pro-choice." Third, Angle might not really believe what she's saying, and might be merely using it to win an election -- but that doesn't make Angle look any better. We ought to be disgusted with someone who panders politically with such terribly offensive rhetoric.

Lastly -- and getting to perhaps the most reasonable conclusion here -- the argument ignores the cold, hard fact that politicians do not like going on record with definitive statements, especially those that would confirm the legal implication of her ideas. Surely Angle realizes the legal implications of her ideas; she has apparently stated in the past that she wants to change current abortion law in Nevada (or is that just pandering?). Yet Angle handled her public exchange on the matter eerily similar to the way Sarah Palin once handled the same situation. Katie Couric once asked Palin, "if a 15-year-old is raped by her father, you believe it should be illegal for her to get an abortion. Why?" Palin responded that "personally, I would counsel a person to choose life," and completely ignored the question at hand (though she did say she wouldn't want to jail women who get abortions; how considerate!). And why? Because while certain abortion rhetoric may win over some voters, confirming on audio, video, or paper, that women should be legally barred from abortions that stem from rape or incest, or which would save their lives, would look even worse. 


#1 Kritikos on Friday July 09, 2010 at 10:57am

I just found a report on the researches of sociologist Jim Ault into the ways of fundamentalist Christians in the US (”A Sociologist Lives Among Christian Fundamentalists: His Conclusions” at Blog on the Way, July 2, 2010) that you might find interesting. Consider the following passage (bold type mine):

Ault’s next most disarming insight is that Fundamentalism relies upon situation ethics. He expressed surprise that the preacher, a man he came to admire, would thunder that divorce was always wrong, and everybody would shout “Amen!” yet several people in the church were divorced. They felt no incongruity about condemning divorce yet also being divorced. Ault learned that the Fundamentalist mindset believed that it believed in the absolutes that it claimed, yet the culture was one of addressing every situation individually and evaluating it in light of multiple factors. While remaining conservative and morally strict, Fundamentalism, nonetheless, relied upon situation for its moral decisions, not absolutes. Divorce, in the end, was NOT always wrong if a situation was one that was intolerable or “unavoidable”. The people, he noted, saw no contradiction in what they said vs what they actually practiced. They thought they believed in an absolute morality, and they practiced situation ethics.

If “abortion” can be substituted for “divorce” salva veritate (without rendering false any true statements) in this passage, then it may be that Sharron Angle’s shiftiness does not reflect any lack of conviction on her part but rather a deeply ingrained incoherence that she shares with other fundies. It seems to me that I once read an article on the incidence of abortion among fundamentalist Christians, according to which it is (like teenage pregnancy) quite a bit higher than one would expect if their professions were any indication of their conduct. Unfortunately, though, I don’t recall the details or the source.

On the other hand, there is this crucial difference between the two issues: Even fundamentalists who condemn divorce do not, by and large, hold that it should be outlawed, while fundamentalists who condemn abortion (i.e., pretty much all of them) most certainly do hold that it should be outlawed. Even if we had evidence that Sharron Angle would be disposed, like the congregants observed by Jim Ault, to make exceptions in cases that arose in her personal experience, there is no reason to doubt that she would put her professed condemnation of abortion into legal effect if it were within her power to do so.

#2 gray1 on Saturday July 10, 2010 at 7:42am

Single issue voters are automatic losers anyway.
Those of us who remember when abortion was illegal locally also remember the nearest places it was not, that or where it was you could get an illegal one.  Cocaine and the like is quite illegal but somehow demand for such fuels a massive black market.  Where there is demand and money, there will always be supply, law or no law.  Work on the demand side if you really want change, but remember this - as a whole, people like at least the illusion of making their own good or bad choices. Some call it free will.

#3 Russell Blackford on Monday July 12, 2010 at 9:00pm

I doubt that many people call it “free will”; more likely they call it “individual liberty” or some such thing. It’s a political concept, not a metaphysical one.

#4 Russell Blackford on Monday July 12, 2010 at 9:13pm

I must say, though, that I’m confused as to where Angle is supposed to have contradicted herself. She has said that abortion is always wrong. She’s also said that the government should keep out of it. But that is not contradictory.

There are many things that I consider morally wrong but don’t want to see banned. I don’t think it is the role of government to enforce my comprehensive moral views, but merely to keep the peace (well, and to do some other basic things that government agencies seem reasonably well equipped for, like providing a social safety net, running an efficient economic system, and ameliorating gross forms of suffering). Even if abortion is morally wrong, it doesn’t threaten the peace (or the safety net, or the efficiency of the economy, and the likelihood is that keeping it legal reduces rather than increases suffering).

I haven’t followed all the links, Michael, so I may well have missed something. Could you say some more about the contradiction that you see, perhaps quoting what is in the relevant links? It’s not plain in the wording of the post itself.

#5 Michael De Dora on Tuesday July 13, 2010 at 8:52pm

Russell, before we get into Angle’s potential contradiction, I must ask you: why do you think some things are morally wrong and can be encoded in law, while other things that are morally wrong should not be encoded? Wherein lies the difference?

#6 Michael De Dora on Tuesday July 13, 2010 at 9:26pm

On the matter of her “contradiction.” I didn’t exactly use that word, which is why I use quote marks. I think there are other (maybe related) issues with Angle’s beliefs and actions.

First, it would seem hypocritical—or, contradictory to one’s self—to believe an action murder but allow it to happen, or at least not try to prevent it from happening. To be sure, one must be in the position to do something about the issue, but Angle surely is in this case (which is bad for secularists). Maybe Angle is hypocritical in that she believes something, yet won’t logically endure and represent her convictions in statements to the world about her beliefs. However, the central issue is that she believes abortion is wrong, and has worked and will continue to work to erase abortions rights laws, but she actually won’t admit that to the public. She’s against abortion in all cases, and says people should choose life, but as a lawmaker, claims to have no political position on how to handle abortion at the level of governance. Yet clearly her political position is this: ban abortion. Angle’s vagueness is the masterful work of a politician trying to get elected. Some do this more than others, and in different ways, but considering Angle’s language and the nature of the issue, I think it’s even worse than usual.

But more to the point, certain people are convinced by Angle’s vagueness, and also by the fact of their small imaginations about the potential of human beings to believe and do. These people argue that she doesn’t really mean what she says she believes, and won’t act on her beliefs. This argument is especially frustrating given evidence conservatives have had success limiting abortion rights in the U.S. And it effectively means we have two problems with trying to promote rational conversation on the matter: Angle’s beliefs themselves; and people who don’t think we should take them very seriously.

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