Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, abortion has become a major issue in the 2022 midterms and a very real danger to Republicans on the wrong side of the nation’s pro-choice majority. But some of these same Republicans are cross-pressured due to the right-to-life movement’s powerful role in GOP politics. Anti-abortion activists are excited about post-Dobbs opportunities to constrain reproductive rights and aren’t in the mood to compromise.
The “abortion squeeze” on Republican politicians is vividly illustrated by the predicament that Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz now finds himself in owing to his shifting stance on the issue. Back in 2019, Oz said that, while he wouldn’t want anyone in his family to get an abortion, he was in favor of keeping Roe v. Wade because he’d seen women impacted by “coat-hanger events” and didn’t want to force his views on others. When Trump endorsed Oz in the Senate race, there was some serious blowback among Pennsylvania conservatives who doubted his commitment to various obligatory causes, among them the anti-abortion crusade. His former criticism of heartbeat bills (which ban abortion around six weeks on the spurious grounds that a fetal heartbeat is present) fed the flames.
Now Oz describes himself as “pro-life, with the three usual exceptions, especially the health of the mother, but incest and rape as well.” But in a recording from May published this week by the Daily Beast, the former cardiothoracic surgeon appears to take a much more extreme stance while trying to rationalize his previous opposition to heartbeat bills:
… The Daily Beast has obtained audio from a campaign event this May where Oz staked out his most extreme position yet, telling voters he believes abortion at any stage of development is “still murder,” including from the moment of conception.
“I do believe life starts at conception, and I’ve said that multiple times,” Oz said during the event, a tele-town hall held a week before the Republican primary.
“If life starts at conception,” Oz [said], “why do you care what age the heart starts beating at? It’s, you know, it’s still murder, if you were to terminate a child whether their heart’s beating or not.”
He was answering an attendee who wondered how Oz could square his current anti-abortion stance with his statements from 2019, specifically that “the heart’s not beating” six weeks into a pregnancy.
At the time, Oz was battling hard-core anti-abortion candidates David McCormick and Kathy Barnette for the GOP nomination, so he decided to claim that his problem with heartbeat laws is that they aren’t radical enough. Murder is murder, right? And moreover, why try to legislate over the hazy heartbeat benchmarks when you could just ban all abortions from the moment of conception?
“Just being logical about it,” Oz said [in May], “if you think that the moment of conception you’ve got a life, then why would you even wait six weeks? Right, then an in vitro fertilized egg is still a life.”
Aside from the radicalism of this position, which probably won’t sit well with general-election voters, it creates some conflict-of-interest problems for Oz, as the Beast notes:
It’s not clear where Oz stands on abortion laws that might effectively also ban in vitro fertilization. According to his most recent financial disclosure, Oz and his wife hold between $1.5 million and $6 million of shares in Prelude Fertility, part of the largest in vitro fertility network in the United States — which is currently looking for a buyer.
This is not a rabbit hole Oz wants political reporters to explore at a time when he’s already struggling to catch up with Democratic opponent John Fetterman. And while Oz certainly isn’t the only Republican candidate having trouble squaring his current stance with remarks he has made to “conservative base” audiences for whom any kind of moderation is a betrayal, some of his problems are unique. It’s hard to find a voter-friendly position on this red-hot issue if anything other than a total ban on abortion from the moment of conception appears to either violate your conscience or make you look like a hypocrite.
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