Dr. Oz: I'm strongly pro-life ... depending on when life begins

Thus far in his Senate campaign, Dr. Mehmet Oz sounds like a stranger in a strange land among Republicans, especially with its populist and social-conservative wing. As Oz attempts to shoehorn his past public statements into the GOP primary-voter mainstream, he seems to have done little preparation for the task. First Oz stumbled over some basics in gun rights, and now it’s the red-meat issue of abortion. Fox’s Will Cain tries to walk the medical doctor through the point of life beginning at conception — both a scientific truth and a political necessity on the Right.

Instead, Oz muffs it, and worse yet calls the question a “rat hole”:

In the more complete clip, Cain sets up the question by recognizing suspicions that Oz may be carpetbagging in more than just the geographic sense. “There are some who are concerned,” Cain says, “are you truly a principled conservative?” Perhaps he might be a recent convert, because Oz clearly hasn’t learned the arguments involved:

“As a doctor, I appreciate the sanctity of life. And for that reason I’m strongly pro-life, with the three exceptions I’ve mentioned,” Dr. Oz began by answering, referencing exceptions of health of the mother, and rape and incest, which he had brought up earlier in the segment. “That’s how I would vote.”

“And when does that life begin,” Cain prompted once more.

“You know, I get it. If I’m pro-life, it’s a decision that comes back to the sanctity of when you think life does begin. And I believe it begins when you’re in the mother’s womb.

“When you’re in the mother’s womb? But that carries you all the way up to nine months of pregnancy,” Cain clarified.

“No, of course not, life’s already started when you’re in your mother’s womb,” Dr. Oz said, though he did also appear to revert back to what seemed to be a previous preference of his, which is to not address the issue at all. “But it’s a rat hole to get trapped in the different ways to talking about it,” he continued.

This is, to put it mildly, word salad. The “sanctity of life” is not a medical issue — it’s a philosophical issue, as well as a non-sequitur to Cain’s question. The medical and scientific question is “when does life begin?”, not what does it mean. And the medical and scientific truth is that life begins at conception, when a unique human being is created and begins to grow with its complete and different human genome already entirely present. Philosophy and religion might inform how we treat that life, but the fact of life is undeniable.

Anyone who has spent any time at all in the “strongly pro-life” sector of politics understands this question and knows the answer that they are expected to give. Even those who argue for exceptions based on rape, incest, and fatal consequences to the mother still answer this question “at conception.” This sounds more like Mitt Romney’s unfortunate claim to be “severely conservative.”

Oz’ inability to articulate the pro-life position on conception as the start of life, as well as his obvious attempts to avoid the question, single him out as a tourist in conservative circles. He might still be sympathetic to conservative positions, but he’s clearly not done much work to familiarize himself with them or with actual principled conservatives. One almost gets the impression that Oz is attempting to mimic media portrayals of conservatives rather than offer any indication of commitment to the ideological framework of conservatism. If that’s all he has, Oz had better hope that his celebrity can outshine his competitors.