KERA's hour-long debate between the four Republican lieutenant-governor hopefuls was, as expected, a desperate scramble to the right. On issue after issue -- evolution, abortion, immigration -- the candidates studiously avoided any hint of moderation.
Nowhere was that clearer than in their answers to the first question of the day: Should John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth have removed pregnant, brain-dead Marlise Munoz from life support?
Suffice to say the word "erred" came up a lot in reference to Judge R.H. Wallace's order, as did the exhortation to "protect life." All agreed with the basic principle that, so long as her fetus had a heartbeat, Munoz should have been kept alive.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who kicked things off, was the only one to express some equivocation.
"In my view, we should always err on the side of life, and in this case there was an unborn child which was past the 20 week state limit on abortions, so I'm not sure what is the right case here," he said. "But I would always err on the side of life, and I'm not sure that's what happened here with the judge's ruling."
In his answer to the followup question, of whether the legislature needs to change the law when it convenes in 2015, Patterson said yes, but his reasoning was pragmatic. "We have the 20-week provision [after which abortions are banned in Texas] and then we have the legal definition of what's alive and what is not. If you're brain-dead you're dead. So they conflict."
The rest of the candidates were much more sure of themselves and much more eager to cite past pro-life measures they were involved in to trumpet themselves as defenders of the unborn.
Here's State Senator Dan Patrick:
"Life is precious, and there's nothing more precious than the life of a baby in the womb. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding that life, we should always do everything to protect that life.
"I appreciate the hospital fighting to preserve that life and save that life and I think the courts erred. ... We are born in the image of God, and whenever we have the opportunity to preserve life, we should do that. That's our duty, as Christians. That's our duty, I believe, as legislators."
His response to the followup: "We need to be very thoughtful, we need to lead, and we need again to go back to a very basic principle: that we need to protect life at all ages and all costs at all times. This has been a battle in the Legislature, and as lieutenant governor, I will lead to the successful conclusion of passing legislation that will do just that: protect life at all times."
Here's Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples:
"What we have here is a situation where there was life, and I think it's our responsibility as a society to have laws and regulations that encourages life and protects life and tries to find a viable way to continue to promote that life.
"Unfortunately I do believe that the court erred in this situation. I think the next legislative session, we're gonna to have to go in and clarify what the meaning of the statute is in order to remove the ambiguity. It's an extremely difficult set of circumstances, but we need to make certain that as a society we are protecting life and that we are giving unborn children the opportunity and the ability to grow and mature, and live the American dream right here in the Lone Star State."
The final candidate to chime in was incumbent David Dewhurst:
"I'm a strong believer in the sanctity of life. This baby had passed 20 weeks, this baby could have been born, and so I think it was decided wrong. ... If I'd been in that judge's shoes, I would have ruled differently."
To the followup question: "I come back to the same point I made earlier. If you have a viable baby and it can be born, that's a life. So I think it was a mistake so I think we need to clarify the law on this and permit this baby to be born."
None of the candidates seemed inclined to give any deference to the wishes of Munoz, who had made clear that she did not want to be kept alive by machines. Nor did any of them bring up the condition of the fetus, which was "distinctly abnormal" and, quite possibly, unable to survive outside the womb.
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Such details are, it seems, irrelevant to the discussion of "life."
Here's the full video of the debate:
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.