In a television ad airing in Iowa, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) talks about seeing a late-term abortion performed while he was working as an obstetrician and not understanding why it was done.
“Who are we to decide that we pick and throw one away and pick up and struggle to save the other ones?” he asks. “Unless we resolve this and understand that life is precious and we must protect life, we can’t protect liberty.”
A radio version of the ad will air in other early states — Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
It’s not the kind of message normally associated with Paul, who is best known for challenging his fellow Republicans on foreign interventions and government bailouts. But the libertarian-minded lawmaker is actually very religious.
He’s not a member, but officials at First Baptist Church of Lake Jackson, Texas say Paul attends services whenever he’s in town. He left the Episcopalian church in which he was raised in part over its stance on abortion rights.
Thus far, abortion rights, and social issues in general, have not played a big role in the 2012 GOP presidential primary, ceding ground to more pressing economic issues as the U.S. economy struggles to revive itself. But a more socially-conservative message is likely to resound in a state like Iowa with a strong evangelical base.
On gay rights, Paul’s positions are less clear. Paul argues that the federal government should not be involved in marriage at all, but that states should be able to “preserve the traditional definition of marriage.” He supports the federal Defense of Marriage Act as a way of preserving that state right.
On the other hand, Paul has on occasion suggested that government should not have any role in marriage: “I don’t think government should give us a license to get married. It should be in the church.”
Even his belief in the gold standard is framed in religious term, as in a letter the campaign circulated earlier this year: “We must follow the Biblical mandate of using honest weights and measures.”
Do Paul’s religious positions put him at odds with his libertarian fans? It would seem so.
Pew describes libertarians as ”much less religious than other GOP-oriented groups.” Only 26 percent of Libertarians attend church weekly, although 53 percent say that religion is a large part of their lives.
The Libertarian Party platform opposes restrictions on abortion rights: “Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.”
Some libertarians argue that if you believe life begins in the womb, fetuses have individual rights just like anyone else. According to Reason magazine’s Nick Gillepsie, about 30 percent of libertarians are anti-abortion rights.
But Wes Benedict, executive director of the Libertarian Party, says that “we don’t want states restricting that right either.”
On gay marriage, Libertarians says that “sexual orientation, preference, gender, or gender identity should have no impact on the government's treatment of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption, immigration or military service laws.”
However, some Libertarians interpret these positions as applying to the federal government only, while state governments — in theory, more responsive to the people — should be allowed to regulate as they see fit.
Trevor Lyman, a long-time active Paul supporter, argues that the lawmaker adheres to that standard, because as president he would drastically reduce federal government power.
“Libertarians probably won’t like the state government coming in and trying to enforce” abortion laws, said Lyman. But “he’s really arguing for decentralized government. His personal opinion is that it should be illegal for doctors to perform abortions, but as president he would have no ability at all to make the states do anything about it.”
Benedict says that most Libertarians already know about Paul’s positions. But it’s odd for him to be taking the lead on social issues in an economy-focused campaign.
Paul’s campaign says his positions are his positions, whatever his supporters think. “Dr. Paul runs on the issues that he believes in,” said campaign manager Jesse Benton. “He never panders.”