In November the three Republican state Senate candidates in District 17 completed questionnaires from the Allen County Right to Life seeking information about their individual positions on a number of critical pro-life issues. The questions asked were straightforward and two of the candidates did a solid job of providing clear answers. Reviewing the final essay question, however, one would probably have to conclude that Jim Banks, an experienced pro-family and pro-life advocate with national experience, provided the most thorough and persuasive explanation of his pro-life philosophy.*
Candidate Tom Wall, currently a Huntington County Commissioner, checked “unsure” in responding to two of the questions on his questionnaire. Each of the questions he marked this way were very simple questions dealing with two common pro-life issues faced by legislators around the country. Anyone familiar with the cursory elements of the pro-life position and philosophy would have been able to make a final judgment about his or her support of the position stated in the question.
The first area of uncertainty for Wall was the matter of conscience clause legislation that protects pharmacists from being legally liable for refusing to fill out prescriptions for abortion inducing products. This issue has come up in several states, including neighboring Illinois, and pharmacists have had to face a choice between violating their conscience and assuming serious liability for their refusal to comply with a consumer’s request. In Indiana legislation has been introduced in recent sessions of the General Assembly to protect pro-life Hoosier pharmacists from this morally and professionally difficult choice.
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Regardless of one’s position on the pro-life issue, there should be enough respect from both sides to agree that mandating that a medical professional violate his conscience in the fulfillment of his profession is not the right thing to do. From the pro-life perspective it is immoral to force a person to become complicit in the termination of human life. From the pro-choice perspective the conclusion should be that if it is wrong for pro-life people to “dictate” other peoples’ medical decisions it is wrong for a movement to dictate the professional practices of a pharmacist.
The second area of uncertainty for candidate Wall was the issue of embryonic stem cell research. Mr. Wall could not give a “yes” or “no” answer to the question of whether or not he would support a ban on embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cell research – not to be confused with other forms of stem cell research – requires the killing of a human embryo in order to extract the important pluripotent stem cells that can then be turned into the kind of cells the scientist is seeking to replicate. (See a good Weekly Standard article on the topic here.) Killing human life, no matter how young, is immoral and unethical. Accepting such a practice, even on a limited basis in the name of medical and scientific progress, is to accept the premise that human life is not sacred and that the value of all life is relative and transient. Such a concept directly contradicts the basic tenants of the philosophy of our nation’s founding.
Interestingly, over the past couple of years, the debate surrounding embryonic stem cell research has moved away from involving both ethical and practical considerations to being more ideological in content. Breakthroughs in research have occurred that have made the pursuit of embryonic stem cell research impractical and irrelevant. The supposed advantages of using embryos have been replicated ethically through alternative processes that have done away with the problem of killing human embryos. There is no scientific reason to support embryonic stem cell research. There is thus no need for Mr. Wall, if he is genuinely pro-life, to be confused about this issue.
The final question asked of each of the candidates was if and when they deemed it acceptable for abortions to take place. While still maintaining that he is pro-life, Wall endorsed the position that abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother. That last phrase is very important because it sounds as if it could be limited to a few key instances but the courts have watered it down so much that it is meaningless. The health of the mother can be anything from the physical life of the mother – a legitimate concern – to the mental health, social wellbeing, and psychological preparedness of the mother for the child. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, Wall endorsed a position that is at best weak.
Honesty is all too frequently a rare commodity in politics today, and if Wall was genuinely being honest about his lack of knowledge on pro-life issues, he deserves at least a passing nod and thanks for his forthrightness. Yet the issues he expressed uncertainty about were not deeply sophisticated subjects that are hard to learn about. The job he is running for, if he is to be effective at it, will demand that he learn a lot about topics he is unfamiliar with and this questionnaire offered him a prime opportunity to further engage an important constituency and learn about issues he will eventually be facing should he be elected.
“Unsure” is not an option that he will continue to have the luxury of if he is elected, and now would be a good time to start preparing for the job he is seeking. Voters appreciate honesty. They do not approve of laziness or an unwillingness to listen, learn and respond in an informed way to important issues that matter deeply to them.
*Banks is also a Whitley County Councilman and the Whitley County Republican Party Chairman.