RFK Jr. is thinking out loud about abortion — and that’s OK

In April, a spokeswoman for independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign wrote an email to the Washington Post that “Mr. Kennedy does not want to add fuel to the fire” in relation to abortion because he considers it a “fundamentally divisive” issue. Instead, she wrote, the campaign seeks to emphasize more unifying topics, such as environmentally-friendly farming practices and chronic disease.

But after a string of public appearances during which Kennedy seemed to “evolve” on abortion (then devolve and then evolve again), it appears, incredibly, that Kennedy seems to be puzzling out his abortion position on the fly in the midst of his highly publicized run for the White House

His lack of clarity has even confused his own running mate, Silicon Valley lawyer Nicole Shanahan. During a recent appearance on the Sage Steele Show, Shanahan appeared visibly baffled when Steele revealed comments made to her by Kennedy that indicated his intention to oppose any limits on abortion up to the point of birth (Kennedy also espoused this position in a subsequent interview with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo). Shanahan replied, “My understanding with Bobby’s position is that, you know, every abortion is a tragedy, a loss of life. My understanding is that he absolutely believes in limits on abortion, and we’ve talked about this. I do not think, I don’t know where that came from.” 

That made millions of us. 

Days later, Kennedy made a lengthy post on X that argued for abortion restrictions following fetal viability. The decision should be left to the mother up until that point, he argued, because he is leery of granting the government power to interfere with bodily autonomy. He then claimed he respects the will of the voters “in the reddest of red states” who have rejected total abortion bans at the ballot box, and that he is disturbed by “gruesome third-trimester abortions” that don’t involve saving the life of the mother. 

Kennedy claims to have finally arrived at this position due to having learned that many late-term abortions are purely elective, which contradicted his prior assumption. 

“I learned this because I was willing to listen — to my family, advisors, supporters, and others who shared their perspectives,” he wrote. “My promise to myself and to America is that I will continue to listen and incorporate what I learn into my decisions.”

Despite accurately representing public consensus on abortion, Kennedy’s current position is both illogical and untenable. The reason abortion has remained the most contentious issue in American politics for at least three generations is because it is, indeed, “fundamentally divisive.” That’s because, at the heart of the matter, there is no room to wiggle or negotiate; either one believes a baby in a womb possesses inherent value or one doesn’t. Public consensus has no bearing here — and, for that matter, neither does “viability.” The question isn’t whether or not a baby can survive on its own, but whether it is precious to begin with. 

To be pro-choice is to claim the right to decide which unborn humans are valuable and which aren’t. To be pro-life is to assert that every unborn human has value and should be protected. It is an unfortunate fact that no amount of dialogue or consensus building can bridge this gap, and that entire families, including Kennedy’s own, have been bitterly divided by the issue.   

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And yet, there is something refreshing, even captivating, about witnessing Kennedy think through these matters in public. Though his current position falls short of the fullness of truth on abortion, Kennedy at least respects the public enough to be honest about his own inner conflict. This is a vast improvement over the classic politician’s attempt to gaslight voters into believing that their position had remained consistent all along. 

His willingness to listen and learn is all a voter can ask for — and it might even lead him to the truth.

Peter Laffin is a contributor at the Washington Examiner. His work has also appeared in RealClearPolitics, the Catholic Thing, and the National Catholic Register.

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