COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
COVID-19 (Coronavirus; CDC graphic)

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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