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March 11, 2009

Michael Steele: Pro-choice after all?

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele ran for the Senate from Maryland in 2006 as an opponent of abortion rights.

Last fall, Steele's role as co-founder of a moderate Republican organization nearly cost him his chance to become chairman. That's because the leader of the group was former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, whose abortion-rights advocacy is anathema to many Republicans.

But Steele maintained that he was solidly opposed to abortion rights and his selection as party chairman was hailed by anti-abortion groups.

“Roe versus Wade was wrongly decided. It should be overturned in my personal view," he told David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network in early December. "We (the Republican Party) value life, born and unborn, and we will fight for that and I will fight for that as an individual and I will fight for that as chairman of the party.”

But now, Steele seems to have revealed what some suspected all along: that he believes women should have a right to choose an abortion.

At least, that's the implication of remarks by Steele in a recent interview with Lisa DePaulo of GQ Magazine.

Here's an excerpt:

How much of your pro-life stance, for you, is informed not just by your Catholic faith but by the fact that you were adopted?

Oh, a lot. Absolutely. I see the power of life in that—I mean, and the power of choice! The thing to keep in mind about it… Uh, you know, I think as a country we get off on these misguided conversations that throw around terms that really misrepresent truth.

Explain that.

The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.

Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?

Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.

You do?

Yeah. Absolutely.

Are you saying you don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade?

I think Roe v. Wade—as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.

Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?

The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.

Do pro-choicers have a place in the Republican Party?


How so?

You know, Lee Atwater said it best: We are a big-tent party. We recognize that there are views that may be divergent on some issues, but our goal is to correspond, or try to respond, to some core values and principles that we can agree on.

Do you think you’re more welcoming to pro-choice people than Democrats are to pro-lifers?

Now that’s a good question. I would say we are. Because the Democrats wouldn’t allow a pro-lifer to speak at their convention. We’ve had many a pro-choicer speak at ours—long before Rudy Giuliani. So yeah, that’s something I’ve been trying to get our party to appreciate. It’s not just in our words but in our actions, we’ve been a party that’s much more embracing. Even when we have missed the boat on, uh, minority issues, the Bush administration did an enormous amount to advance the individual opportunities for minorities in our country. In housing. In education. In health care.

Posted by Paul West at 6:28 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Michael Steele


So the Republican Party values life, but the head of the RNC, a Roman Catholic and former seminarian, believes that women have a choice - life or abortion. Michael Steele is one conflicted individual and a poor representative of his party and his faith.

Michael Steele also said it was a scarlet letter to have an R next o your name and now he is the RNC Chair. Who knows which Michael is speaking.

I know there was the whole problem in 92 or 96 with his father, but didn't the Democrats allow Sen. Casey, a strong anti-choicer, to speak at the convention last year??

If the Republican Party continues to make this the premiere issue of its platform it will only continue to lose elections and marginalize itself; making this debate, or any debate it might engage in, moot.

As the United States changes generationally, the issues her people deem important change just as surely. You can rest assured that young people today support choice in numbers that the Republicans can't begin to fathom (nor even want to think about), which means that the relevance of this issue is terminally ill.

And the Republicans find themselves on this side of A LOT of issues. The environment comes quickly to mind. Gay marriage, too. The Party (of which I am a proud member) needs to carve a niche for itself out of relevant issues that will resonate with an electorate that looks much, much different than the electorate that put Reagan in the White House. If the GOP is going to continue to be the party of scared old white fellas, clinging to their way of life, they will continue to be the minority; and may very well cease to exist.

Dear Mr. Paul West
One would think Marylander's have more pressing issues to discuss at the moment. I know you are trying to prove a point, and a good one, but this kind of topic can wait when people have the time to care. My opinion only, doesn't make it fact.

Mr. Steele's constitutional view on whether a woman has a right to an abortion should not be described as "Pro-Life" or "Pro-Choice." The media, including the AP writer who covers the Supreme Court, always blurs this distinction. If the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe, it would not be outlawing abortion, as many people would want you to believe.

The position that Mr. Steele is taking is that the right to have an abortion is not a constitutionally-recognized right. Can anybody point to a provision in the constitution which states this? No. Instead, judges have been inferring rights, based in large part, on their own subjectivities.

Now, even though a state would have a right to legislate and even ban abortion if Roe was overturned, it does not mean that a state should take those steps.

What label should be attached to somebody who finds Roe to be bad law, but also feels that it is foolhardy for individual states (likely the Dakotas and some states and the south) to ban or heavily regulate abortion? There is no label, as the abortion argument is far more nuanced than what the media normally reports.

What do you do then?
Carhart: My normal course would be to dismember that extremity and then go back and try to take the fetus out either foot or skull first, whatever end I can get to first.
How do you go about dismembering that extremity?
Carhart: Just traction and rotation, grasping the portion that you can get ahold of which would be usually somewhere up the shaft of the exposed portion of the fetus, pulling down on it through the os, using the internal os as your countertraction and rotating to dismember the shoulder or the hip or whatever it would be. Sometimes you will get one leg and you can't get the other leg out.
In that situation... are you.. when you pull on the arm and remove it, is the fetus still alive?
Carhart: Yes.
Do you consider an arm, for example, to be a substantial portion of the fetus?
Carhart: In the way I read it, I think if I lost my arm, that would be a substantial loss to me. I think I would have to interpret it that way.
And then what happens next after you remove the arm? You then try to remove the rest of the fetus?
Carhart: Then I would go back and attempt to either bring the feet down or bring the skull down, or even sometimes you bring the other arm down and remove that also and then get the feet down.
At what point is the fetus ... does the fetus die during that process?
Carhart: I don't really know. I know that the fetus is alive during the process most of the time because I can see the fetal heartbeat on the ultrasound.
The Court: Counsel, for what it's worth, it still is unclear to me with regard to the intact D & E when fetal demise occurs.
Okay, I will try to clarify that. In the procedure of an intact D & E where you would start foot first, with the situation where the fetus is presented feet first, tell me how you are able to get the feet out first.
Carhart: Under ultrasound, you can see the extremities. You know what is what. You know what the foot is, you know what the arm is, you know what the skull is. By grabbing the feet and puling down on it, or by grabbing a knee and pulling down on it, usually you can get one leg out, get the other leg out, and bring the fetus out. I don't know where this ... all the controversy about rotating the fetus comes from. I don't attempt to do that - just attempt to bring out whatever is the proximal portion of the fetus.
At the time that you bring out the feet, in this example, is the fetus still alive?
Carhart: Yes.
Then what's the next step you do?
Carhart: I didn't mention it, I should. I usually attempt to grasp the cord first and divide the cord, if I can do that.
What is the cord?
Carhart: The cord is the structure that transports the blood, both arterial and venous, from the fetus to the back of the fetus, and it gives the fetus its only source of oxygen, so that if you can divide the cord, the fetus will eventually die, but whether this takes five minutes or fifteen minutes and when that occurs, I don't think anyone really knows.
Are there situations where you don't divide the cord?
Carhart: There are situations when I can't.
What are those?
Carhart: I just can't get to the cord. It's either high above the fetus and structures where you can't reach up that far. The instruments are only eleven inches long.
Let's take the situation where you haven't divided the cord because you couldn't, and you have begun to remove a living fetus feet first. What happens next after you have gotten the feet removed?
Carhart: We remove the feet and continue with traction on the feet until the abdomen and the thorax come through the cavity. At that point, I would try ... you have to bring the shoulders down, but you can get enough of them outside, you can do this with you finger outside of the uterus, and then at that point the fetal ... the base of the fetal skull is usually in the cervical canal.
What do you do next?
Carhart: And you can reach that, and that's where you would rupture the fetal skull to some extent and aspirate the contents out.
At what point in that process does fetal demise occur between intial remove ... removal of the feet or legs and the crushing of the skull, or - I'm sorry - the decompressing of the skull?
Carhart: Well you know, again, this is where I'm not sure what fetal demise is. I mean, I honestly have to share your concern, your Honor. YOu can remove the cranial contents and the fetus will still have a heartbeat for several seconds or several minutes; so is the fetus alive? I would have to say probably, although I don't think it has any brain function, so it's brain-dead at that point.
So the brain death might occur when you begin suctioning out of the cranium?
Carhart: I think brain death would occur because the suctioning to remove contents is only two or three seconds, so somewhere in that period of time, obviously not when you penetrate the skull, because people get shot in the head and they don't die immediately from that, if they are going to die at all, so that probably is not sufficient to kill the fetus, but I think removing the brain contents eventually will.

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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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