In the middle of a global pandemic that has already claimed the lives of millions of people, what does it mean to be pro-life?
I’ve been pondering that question lately as I read story after story about the growing vaccination divide in this country. Progressive communities like Redmond, where NPI is based, have populations that are fairly well protected against COVID-19 due to high vaccination rates, while conservative communities like Walla Walla are grappling with increasing cases and hospitalizations thanks to the transmission of COVID-19’s highly infectious delta variant by unvaccinated people.
The existence of this vaccine divide is a tragedy — a tragedy that doesn’t have to continue. We have the means to protect people — we just need people to get their shots. People will get sick or die from COVID-19 who otherwise would have lived or have fended off the illness if we don’t get more communities vaccinated.
Although there is no universally agreed upon definition of pro-life, at least some right wing organizations define the term as being “against the unjust taking of human life” as opposed to just synonymous with we oppose reproductive rights.
“To be pro-life is to be against the unjust taking of human life,” reads an essay written by Save the Storks. “This is why we oppose abortion, not because it is the only instance where human life is unjustly taken, but because it is one of the most widespread and because those affected are the most defenseless.”
By that logic, shouldn’t those who consider themselves pro-life be making COVID-19 vaccine advocacy a top, urgent priority?
COVID-19 is one of the most widespread threats to human life right now, and those who are unvaccinated are definitely the most defenseless.
There’s an opportunity right now to save a lot of lives from being unjustly taken by a deadly virus. A really big opportunity. We no longer have the logistical problem of not having enough vaccine doses. There’s plenty of supply, there’s just not enough willingness in many communities to get vaccinated.
Over half a million Americans have already died in this pandemic. Now we have vaccines that provide robust, excellent protection against the original permutation of COVID-19 and its increasingly sinister variants, delta included. Unlike Americans, people in many other countries have no access to COVID-19 vaccines.
How can we get more Americans who predominantly use the right wing values system in their political thinking to get vaccinated?
This is a question that the Biden-Harris administration and weary public health leaders in every state are wrestling with right now.
“As the Delta variant rips through conservative swaths of the country, some elected Republicans are facing growing pressure from public health advocates to speak out — not only in favor of their constituents being inoculated against the coronavirus but also against media figures and elected officials who are questioning the vaccines,” The New York Times reported yesterday.
The NYT’s Jonathan Weisman spoke to Senator Mitt Romney of Utah about the lack of pro-vaccine advocacy in Republican politics for his story.
“We don’t control conservative media figures so far as I know — at least I don’t,” Romney told Weisman. “That being said, I think it’s an enormous error for anyone to suggest that we shouldn’t be taking vaccines. Look, the politicization of vaccination is an outrage and frankly moronic.”
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell pronounced himself confused.
“I’m perplexed by the difficulty we have finishing the job,” McConnell said.
“If you’re a football fan,” the longtime top Senate Republican continued, using a gridiron metaphor, “we’re in the red zone. But we’re not in the end zone yet. And we need to keep preaching that getting the vaccine is important.”
Very nice sentiments. But merely saying such things to newspaper reporters isn’t going to put vaccine misinformation and disinformation in their place.
Wimpy responses just aren’t going to cut it. The harsh truth is that plenty of Republican voters are going to die if more drastic measures are not taken.
Mitt Romney is right that he doesn’t control conservative media figures.
But there is one person in Republican politics who wields great influence over both conservative media figures and Republican members of Congress, and that’s Donald Trump. If Trump would just instruct his rabid cult followers to get vaccinated, we’d see movement. Would everyone respond favorably? No, but we’d almost certainly see a change in how Republican voters feel about vaccines.
Trump isn’t going to listen to Romney, and probably not McConnell either, but there are other people he might listen to, such as his eldest child, Ivanka Trump, who is widely considered the most level headed of the Trump children, and the one who is arguably the most capable of thinking empathetically.
The likes of Romney and McConnell are not powerless. There is always a way. They could, for example, focus on finding people they have good relationships with who are willing to lobby the people who Trump is most likely to listen to.
(It’s sad that I have to write a paragraph like this in 2021, but, this is where we’ve sunk to, unfortunately. The Republican Party has become a cult.)
Republican messaging maven Frank Luntz, who has been helping Republicans communicate with their base and with biconceptual voters for decades, is among those who believe that Donald Trump could deliver the biggest win for vaccinations in Republican circles in the shortest amount of time.
And he’s in favor of having President Biden weigh in.
“I think Joe Biden needs to say explicitly, ‘President Trump, tell your people to get vaccinated … If you won’t, explain why. And if you won’t, stop trying to take credit for developing the vaccine because what good is the vaccine if people won’t get it,’” Luntz explained in comments reported by Politico.
The Politico story proceeded to note, in its closing paragraphs: “Luntz also offered some suggestions based on his latest focus group findings, which show an effective way to reach reluctant populations is through deploying grandparents to talk to their grandkids and local pharmacists to talk to their patients.”
“You gotta keep trying,” [Luntz] said. “Because success saves lives.”
Indeed it does, and Luntz’s findings make sense. Success in politics is deeply connected to trust and identity. We know that people vote for who they trust and who they identify with. It makes sense that people would respond to people they have strong relationships with. But grandparents aren’t going to pitch their grandkids on getting vaccinated if they don’t believe in the vaccines themselves.
This is where Trump could be a difference maker.
If Trump would start speaking favorably about the COVID-19 vaccines and tell people to get one, that could influence Fox’s programming, and, in turn, Fox’s audience, who are primarily elderly people who lean right in their politics.
We know that Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson are busy beating their anti-vaccination drums these days, which is resulting in needless death and illness. (Sean Hannity, for his part, mentioned planning to get vaccinated in a show that aired a few weeks back and urged viewers to “talk to your doctor”.)
It’s entirely possible that Trump won’t respond to any lobbying.
But it sure seems like it’s worth it to try.
After all, Donald Trump is rather shameless and narcissistic. He is, as Bernie Sanders has said, a pathological liar. He could be an Orwell character.
Trump can turn on a dime and change his position. We’ve seen it before, over and over and over again. Trump has changed his positions on issues like reproductive rights and gun safety to appeal to the people he wants to manipulate.
When old associates have gotten in trouble (life Jeffrey Epstein) Trump has claimed either not to know them or to have barely known them.
When Trump has fallen out with people who used to work for him (like Michael Cohen) he has fiercely disowned them as having absolutely nothing to do with him or his purported success, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.
Trump has proven that he is totally up for revisionist history games. If he said tomorrow, “Get vaccinated — I did. I’ve always been a strong proponent of vaccines. I’ve always championed them vocally. I’m the reason we have vaccines, it was my doing!” — there really would be nothing shocking about that.
It would just be the new party line decreed by the man atop the cult.
Regardless of whether the manipulator-in-chief can be manipulated into offering pro-vaccine messages at his rallies and media events, those Republicans who do believe in science and in the vaccines owe it to themselves, their families, their friends, and their country to demonstrate leadership.
That means having difficult and awkward conversations about getting vaccinated. It means not tiptoeing around the issue, but tackling it head on.
Every life that can be saved should be saved.
Those who profess themselves to be pro-life have, by their own admission, a moral obligation to do what they can to prevent the unjust taking of life. The failure to inoculate against a deadly virus that has already killed millions easily qualifies as an unjust and totally preventable taking of life.