Writes William Saletan (himself no pro-lifer):
Frist, the Senate majority leader, calls himself pro-life. He has a 100 percent pro-life voting record, according to the National Right to Life Committee. But last week, he asked his colleagues to lift President Bush's restriction on federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research—a restriction that Bush imposed on the grounds that such research required the destruction of embryos. Why remove Bush's constraints? Because they "slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases," said Frist. What about the embryo? That's up to the family, the senator concluded: "Obviously, any decision about the destiny of an embryo must clearly and ultimately rest with the parents."As I pointed out last week, either a human life is inherently valuable or it isn't. There's no via media. Frist says that it is not. Which means he is not pro-life, as Slate recognizes, even if he is often aligned with pro-lifers.
In other words, when it comes to aborting embryos, Frist is pro-choice.
Saletan points out that Frist's stem cell position is not a change nor a departure. It flows from his fundamental thinking on the matter. Since his 1994 Senate campaign, Frist has been quietly adamant in his pro-choice philosophy, with the exception of the partial birth abortion debate:
In all of Frist's years in the Senate, this is the only time he speaks of a "right to life" during a discussion of abortion legislation. But he doesn't attribute this right to all unborn children. He attributes it to those that are "mature." Maybe, in his view, a fetus that has matured to the point of a PBA has earned that right. Maybe he objects to Roe because he thinks the same is true of late second-trimester fetuses—or maybe he just thinks states should be allowed to ban most abortions, though he personally wouldn't. Either way, it's clear from his speeches on stem-cell research that he doesn't think embryos have matured enough. His policy would leave embryos to what he calls, in the abortion context, "human whim." And the government would pay for the use of their remains.I'd like to know the answer to that myself. Philosophically, it's what all pro-choicers do. All pro-choicers draw some arbitrary line somehwere at which they say life deserves protection. For some it's in the second trimester, while for others (like Peter Singer), it's more like in the second year. But all of this is pure subjectivity, with each participant imposing his own arbitrary, internal guideline over the process and none having any more claim to morality than the other (since all share the same philosophical assumption).
All of which leads to the question: At what point does Frist think the embryo acquires a right to life? In 1997, he voted to ban federal funding of research involving fetal tissue derived from abortions. Four years later, and again last week, he took the opposite position on early embryos. He voted for the federal PBA ban but opposes a federal ban on earlier abortions generally. At some point along the continuum of development, Frist stops thinking like a pro-choicer and starts thinking like a pro-lifer. When? And why?
Even the pro-choice community recognizes that Frist thinks like one of them. The question is, do pro-lifers realize it?