The Roles Of Church And Voting In Abortion Debate

Steve Inskeep talks with The New Republic's Amy Sullivan, who says liberals are misreading Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock in criticizing his recent comments on abortion.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we're going to hear something that is rare in a tense partisan moment. It involves Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate for United States Senate, in Indiana. He's been intensely criticized for a statement in a debate, when he was asked why he opposes abortion even in cases of rape.

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RICHARD MOURDOCK: I struggled with it, myself, for a long time. But I came to realize, life is that gift from God; and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

INSKEEP: Mourdock has since apologized to those who he said misinterpreted his remarks. Now, here's the rare part. Amy Sullivan, who writes for The New Republic, strongly disagrees with Mourdock's view of abortion; but wrote an article in which she works to understand his point of view. Welcome to the program.

AMY SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: So why were you less offended by Richard Mourdock's statement, than some people apparently were?

SULLIVAN: Well, perhaps because I am an evangelical myself. I grew up in a fairly conservative Baptist church, and I'm familiar with the theological view that sees God as someone who is active in intervening in our lives. And so therefore, when you come to an issue like abortion, folks who have that theological view believe that God intends for every life to be created. And so working backward, if a life has been created - regardless of what the circumstances of that conception were - then that life was intended to be, by God.

INSKEEP: And there's also this broader notion of trying to figure out why horrible things happen in the world. Isn't it fairly common for people to ask, why did God bring this hurricane; why did I crash my car; why did my mother die - and try to find...

SULLIVAN: People have been asking that for all of human history. And it's something that we really have no answers for, so people continue to debate it, and to argue about it. I think this fits in as well. And it fits in with - frankly - a very long Jewish tradition and Christian tradition, of believing that God can bring goodness out of bad things; out of, even, evil things.

INSKEEP: So you feel that is what Richard Mourdock meant, when he was answering this question about why he opposes abortion, even in cases of rape?

SULLIVAN: It seemed pretty clear to me that he was saying he had done a lot of thinking about it; and he could not get around the idea that if a life had been created, that that was something God wanted to come into being.

INSKEEP: Now, with that said, you don't agree with him on the underlying issue - the question of abortion, in this case, or any other case.

SULLIVAN: Absolutely not. Yes, I believe that there should be not only exceptions for women who find themselves pregnant after being raped; but that there should be limited restrictions on the ability of a woman to get an abortion, especially early in her pregnancy.

INSKEEP: What is it, you think, that he doesn't get? What is a fair criticism to make of Mourdock - from your point of view - on this issue?

SULLIVAN: Well, one of the problems I have with that theology, is that I think it's - obviously - wrong. Everything doesn't turn out the way it's supposed to. You can name any number of examples - whether it's young children getting sick and dying. It is hard for me, personally, to believe in a God who intends that to happen. So just in terms of theology, I think that's bad theology. But it's a theology I disagree with. It doesn't mean that I don't understand how somebody could hold that; or that I think that they shouldn't. Where I differ from Richard Mourdock especially, is on the idea that one's personal views on abortion should become the law on abortion.

And this is, obviously, part of the national debate that we have on abortion all the time, particularly in election years. So, for instance, during the vice presidential debate, Martha Raddatz asked both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan, to talk about how their Catholic faith had influenced their personal views on abortion.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

SULLIVAN: And I thought that was a bad question because their personal views on abortion, actually, aren't relevant. Their policy beliefs on abortion are something that we need to know about, as voters.

INSKEEP: Some people ask: How can you separate that?

SULLIVAN: Well, that's a fair question. And there are a lot of people who believe that you can't separate the two. But then you have to grapple with the fact that you have chosen to take your religious beliefs - which may or may not be correct - and impose them on the lives of other people. And in the case of abortion, that has the troubling effect of requiring women to abide by your choices regarding what they can do with their bodies.

INSKEEP: Amy Sullivan of The New Republic, thanks for coming by.

SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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