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Reflections from Columbia 

Republican presidential candidates weigh in on the abortion issue

With one sentence, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani sounded every bit the pro-choice candidate he's been hailed -- and excoriated -- as being. "There are people, million and millions of Americans, who are as of good conscience as we are, who make a different choice about abortion," said Giuliani, the front-running Republican candidate.

The statement, made at the Republican debate in South Carolina, must've come as a relief to many women watching who've had abortions, accustomed as they are in political discourse to being denigrated, condescended to and subtly belittled, sometimes by even the most pro-choice of top-tier presidential candidates.

About 43 percent of women will have an abortion before age 45, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, who's generally believed to have the best data on the question. But you would never know that from the way abortion is framed in public debate as something that people in polite society have done. That night in Columbia, I couldn't help but think about the way politicians address voters about this intensely personal issue.

It's hackneyed but necessary argument -- no one we witnessed on stage that night will ever bear the responsibility of being, say, a pregnant rape victim. I struggle to envision any of the wealthy suits onstage calmly and paternally "explaining" to a rape victim how anyone but her knows best what to do in such a situation.

Nevertheless, Sen. Sam Brownback, responding to a question, knew just what to say:

"But it nonetheless remains that this is a child that we're talking about doing this to, of ending the life of this child. Will that make the woman in a better situation if that's what takes place? And I don't think so, and I think we can explain it when we look at it for what it is: a beautiful child of a loving God, that we ought to protect in all circumstances in all places, here in the womb, somebody that's struggling in poverty, a family that's struggling. We should work and look at all life, be pro-life and whole-life for everybody."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who years ago said the death of his brother-in-law's teenage sister from an illegal abortion in the 1960s led to his pro-choice stance, now says that American culture has devalued life so much that he no longer supports a right to choose. Romney's philosophy is a new stance that, much like his pro-choice position made him a palatable candidate for Massachusetts governor, puts him in line with the position expected of a Republican presidential nominee.

When questioned by Fox News' Wendell Goler about what he would say to someone who lost a wife or daughter to an illegal abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Romney made sure to tell us he had feelings. But he didn't answer the question. " ... Something of that nature, it just makes you sick, and I can't imagine my heart not being rent by virtue of having a circumstance like that presented to me."

But feelings are secondary to carefully calibrated political stances, and he moved quickly back to campaign stump speech. "I've always been personally pro-life ... I said Roe v. Wade has gone to such an extent that we've cheapened the value of human life. And I believe that a civilized society has to respect the sanctity of human life. And what I'm saying is that, in my view, the people should make this decision, not the court."

Women, of course, bear the responsibility of making those decisions every day. It's worth noting that Giuliani didn't say reduce the need or demand for abortion through policies that help women and families. "It's going to take a while for the courts to figure out what to do about this. And while we're looking at that, we should do what I did in New York, which is to try to reduce abortions as much as you can, try to increase adoptions," he said.

What did Giuliani do in New York? It's hard to tell, because regulating the procedure isn't exactly within the purview of city government. According to writer Bruce Reed, although Giuliani has boasted that abortions dropped 16 percent during his time as the city's mayor, abortion rates dropped 15 percent nationally during the same period. Nor does Giuliani mention that New York City's abortion rate is still triple the national average.

The adoption decision that Giuliani is promoting is as gut-wrenching a decision as abortion. Giuliani is not a young man, of course, and neither is his wife, Judith Nathan. But I struggle to imagine a wife, girlfriend or daughter of a presidential candidate publicly giving a child that resulted from an unintended pregnancy up for adoption. But then, these are the policies and choices we advocate for other people, not necessarily ourselves.

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