I recently ran across a Facebook argument, in which two people I respect (I will call them Mrs. A and Mr. B) took very different positions on voting. Both are thoughtful, intelligent Christians, yet the issue that primarily divided them was on whether abortion was an absolute deal-breaker when it came to voting for the Democratic candidate. To put it in rather stark terms, the question was whether ANY prolife candidate should ALWAYS command the vote of prolife people, regardless of other factors.
Mr. B seemed to answer that question in the affirmative while Mrs. A thought otherwise.
I did not chime in, for I think Facebook fosters division instead of constructive dialogue. But perhaps this forum will be different.
I will make it a little more personal and direct. I am prolife. Does this mean I need to vote for Donald Trump? Can I be prolife without being pro-Trump?
Let’s first define our terms a bit. To be prolife means I agree with two propositions:
First, that a human fetus becomes a human life at some point before birth.
Second, that society has a legitimate interest in protecting human life, even through legislation when necessary.
I am not going to argue these points right now. I am simply stating what I mean when I use the term prolife.
What does it mean to be anti-Trump? For my purposes it means to refuse to vote for him as a presidential candidate. This can mean either voting for the Democratic ticket, voting for a third party, voting for a write-in candidate, or pointedly refraining from voting for the presidential race at all.
At face value, the prolife position has received much help from the current president, especially in his judicial appointments. Though Trump has kept less than half of his campaign promises from 2016, in the area of court picks he has delivered.
This fact, from what I can tell, is what will lead many conservative Christians to vote for him, though they may disapprove, or even abhor, his personal life and his divisive and dishonest rhetoric.
But I can think at least three reasons for religious conservatives like myself to not make this bargain.
First, it is not at all clear that the prolife goal will be helped by legislative or judicial action.
What is the goal of the prolife movement? Surely it is to decrease the amount of abortions that occur in our society. Good news: This has actually been accomplished.
The abortion rate has gone down consistently for almost twenty years now. In 2013 it actually dipped lower than the abortion rate before the Roe v. Wade decision (in 1973), and has continued to decline since then.
Let’s ponder this point: The abortion rate today, in 2020, is lower than it was when abortion was not legal nationwide. And this trend has continued for 20 years, through Democratic and Republican presidents, through Democratic and Republican congresses, and through various iterations of the supreme court.
Why has it gone down? Many factors are in play, not just one. More couples using birth control. The hard work of crisis pregnancy centers. Changes in societal views on abortion, influenced by the prolife movement and better fetal imaging. A declining pregnancy rate among teenagers. Morning after pills. Restricted abortion options in some local communities.
Of these factors, the last is the only one directly controlled by judicial or legislative action. And this factor is the least weighty of the ones I mention.
In other words, the goal of the prolife movement has occurred and is occurring: to reduce the abortion rate in our society. And this has happened regardless of who is in the White House or whom they pick for federal judgeships.
Second, the Supreme Court is unlikely to reverse Roe v Wade anyway, and it is unclear what other abortion-related decisions they would choose to accept to adjudicate, nor how they would decide those cases.
Roe v Wade now has almost 50 years of legal standing. Anyone who keeps an eye on the judicial philosophy of the current court (even if ACB is added) would deem it doubtful that the court would reverse that decision. After all, in the early 90’s eight of the nine justices were Republican appointees, but there was no movement regarding Roe at all.
It’s just not going to happen.
Even if they did reverse Roe v Wade that would not outlaw abortion. Abortion legality would be decided at the state level, as it was before Roe.
Third, it is my opinion that the election of Donald Trump will actually be a net negative for the pro-life position in the long run, despite his judicial picks.
This is because the prolife movement is about so much more than simply making more laws restricting abortion. It is about helping to create a society that values life more, especially vulnerable human lives, including the unborn. You cannot legislate that. You can only help create it.
How do you do that? By arguing a coherent and consistent prolife viewpoint. By exemplifying the kind of care and compassion for the weak and vulnerable that you are advocating for. By thoughtfully and compassionately caring for the women that may be in difficult situations. By displaying a concern for the weak and vulnerable in other situations than the unborn. And by prayer.
At its best, the prolife movement has done some of these much better than our opponents want to give us credit for. I have seen, and participated in, crisis pregnancy centers ministering to women (and men) in diverse ways. And this is, I think, part of the reason the abortion rate has fallen.
But look at those five things now. To which of those has Donald Trump contributed? Would not a dispassionate observer sense that his effect has been the exact opposite on several of these?
My concern is not primarily about him. It is about the prolife movement and how he affects it.
How can we maintain any kind of moral consistency about biblical values, or even traditional family values, when so many of us vote for a man who has cheated on all three of his wives, and who said that sleeping around while avoiding STD’s was his “personal Vietnam”? And without that moral consistency, how can we have any ability to argue in the areas of personal morality, or help create the kind of worldview in our society that takes the morality of abortion seriously?
How can we pretend our concern for the unborn is part of a holistic concern for the dignity of all human life, when we vote for a man who mocks the disabled, and called reportedly soldiers who died for their country “suckers” and “losers”?
How can we say we care about the value of women, all women, and object to their objectification when we vote for a man who boasts about sexually assaulting women, and refers to 15 year old girls as “a piece of ass”? And who, by the way, does not repent of these things.
I could go on. But why? Let me just ask you to give an honest answer to this question: Do you sense the prolife movement has been more prayerful, more compassionate, more consistent, more morally persuasive…than it was four years ago?
And…perhaps more to the point…how would society at large answer that question?
Politics, including the politics of abortion, is downstream from culture. Any legislative victories the prolife movement does achieves in the next few years will be short-lived indeed if the culture does not become increasingly prolife as well.
So, to wrap up, the president’s judicial picks are not likely to significantly change how many women get abortions, both because the court will not overturn Roe, and because the abortion rate is already decreasing dramatically without judicial action. But a prolife movement without a moral compass is lost.
Does this mean we should all vote for Joe Biden? Of course not. There are many issues and many options. What it means, if I am right, is that we should vote for our president not solely on the grounds of his judicial picks. It is certainly possible to be prolife and not be pro-Trump.