Santorum's daughter talks family values in Iowa City


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For Iowa caucus candidate Rick Santorum and his family, protection of unborn babies and the disabled is personal.

So personal that Santorum has made family values the center of his campaign, and he is calling on his daughter Elizabeth Santorum to help spread the message.

"I have a special-needs little sister, so [the life issue] is very dear to our hearts," Elizabeth Santorum said in Iowa City on Tuesday. "We're very committed to this on a personal level."

While at lunch with University of Iowa College Republicans, the University of Dallas junior described how the intimacy of her family has influenced her father's politics.

Bella Santorum — the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania's youngest daughter — was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a physical and mental disability, just five days after she was born.

"We've seen that the pro-life fight is in the womb and at the bedsides of the elderly but also at the bedsides of special-needs children," Elizabeth Santorum said.

The Santorum family also suffered a loss when their son Gabriel died after being born prematurely in 1996.

In light of her father's anti-abortion background, Elizabeth Santorum told The Daily Iowan her family aims to "defend and promote the culture of life in all phases."

"When you lose a child or you have a child with certain disabilities, sometimes it can cause a family to go off the rails in some ways," said Jenifer Bowen, the executive director of Iowa Right to Life. "For his family, it's really caused them to become even more pro-family, more pro-life."

During his time in the U.S. Senate, Rick Santorum wrote several pieces of anti-abortion legislation including a law that would extend legal protection to infants born alive after failed attempts at induced abortion and a law that would recognize a developing embryo as a legal entity. He also composed the act that outlawed intact dilation and extraction, a late-term abortion.

Some anti-abortion activists say Rick Santorum has been a "warrior" for pushing such legislation forward in Washington.

"He was very instrumental in the late-90s during the national discussion that we had as to what partial-birth abortion was," Bowen said. "He has been solid for us for many, many years."

Some experts say a focus on anti-abortin issues may make him more appealing to right-leaning voters.

"The life issue has been central to Rick Santorum ever since he has been in politics," said John Robert Hendrickson, a research analyst at the Public Interest Institute in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. "That registers very highly to many conservatives."

But others said a focus on family issues may not be enough for Santorum to come out on top.

"I think he's going to appeal to a very small segment of really family-valued Christian conservatives in Iowa, but because he's competing with [other conservative candidates], I just don't think he's going to appeal to them that much," said Jason Edwards, an assistant professor of communication studies at Bridgewater State College, in Massachusetts.

Others argued Santorum's focus on family issues is merely a talking point.

"Rick Santorum will never have a uterus, he will never have to choose whether or not to have an abortion," said Emily Sullivan, the president of the UI Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. "I think it's just a buzz topic. There are a lot more important things going on. It's a silly game to play."

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