On Voting for Pro-Choice Candidates: A Response to Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans recently argued for the propriety of voting, at least in some circumstances, for pro-choice candidates, even if one holds pro-life convictions. Her main argument for doing so is that pro-choice candidates who pursue progressive policies (i.e., Democrats) are often more likely to create conditions in which a culture of life can prevail by helping to reduce poverty and expand access to contraception. These conditions, in turn, help lower the number of unwanted pregnancies, which is primarily what elevates the abortion rate. Although no candidate is perfect, on balance, it is often better to vote for one who is pro-choice for these reasons.

I believe Mrs. Evans is badly mistaken here. I will explain why below, but first I want to sweep away any idea that may be in my readers’ minds about my motives here in relation to Donald Trump. One of Evans’s main purposes in her article is to argue that pro-life voters should vote for Hillary Clinton over Trump. Lest anyone misread me: I am not defending Donald Trump here, nor am I arguing that anyone should vote for him. I do not intend to do so.

But I also believe those with pro-life convictions should never vote for pro-choice candidates, and that would include Hillary Clinton. Here are the problems I see with Evans’s arguments:

1. The Democratic Party, as it currently exists, can never lead us to create a culture that affirms unborn human life. It can only do the opposite.

Evans values the creation of a culture of life over legal policies that restrict abortion (not to say that she disregards the latter, only that she apparently views it as less important than the former). But her logic is flawed here because the legal policies that the leaders of a nation stand for, enact, and support, are so bound up with that nation’s culture that the two really cannot be distinguished from one another. The law doesn’t simply impose penalties; it also shapes the way citizens think about the issues it addresses. Generations shaped by a given legal policy will, in the absence of powerful contrary forces, embrace that policy as expressive of a legitimate moral conclusion.

No matter what the Democratic Party may pursue with regard to poverty (which may or may not actually alleviate it), we cannot evaluate its ability to help create a culture of life in the absence of considerations of its platform on abortion. As of today, the party stands for unrestricted access to abortion at all stages of pregnancy, including the use of federal tax dollars to pay for abortion services (currently illegal). When the grisly practices of Planned Parenthood were exposed last summer, Democrats stood with the organization that has lined the pockets of their campaigns. A year after those shocking video revelations about the inner workings of Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in human body parts, federal tax dollars continue to fund that organization because of Democrats. At the Democratic National Convention just a few weeks ago, the crowd cheered as a woman proudly proclaimed her decision to murder the child inside her body because it would have been inconvenient to give birth at the time. We are well past the point of imagining that the Democratic Party has done anything less than completely hand itself over to the culture of death when it comes to the issue of abortion. For Democrats, abortion is a sacred, inviolable, constitutional right, the infringement of which by any kind of government regulation is utterly abhorrent.

If it is a culture of life that you want, the Democrats are the last people in the world whom we can trust to lead us in building one. Period. They do not value unborn life, and if their party assumes unopposed leadership in our country, there is no way a culture of life will flourish. Even if we reduced poverty to zero, and contraceptives grew on trees, there would always be unwanted pregnancies. And women will continue to choose to end those pregnancies for the sake of convenience because we will have a political class that will cheer them on as they do.

2. The particular moral flaw of the Democratic Party on this issue is of such great moral weight that it should disqualify any Democrat at the national level from receiving any of our votes.

This point would be self-evident if we use our imaginations for a moment. What if one major pillar of the Democrat platform was a commitment to the legitimacy of infanticide up to a certain age (any age, it doesn’t matter when)? Too far-fetched? Some on the left, owing to a utilitarian understanding of personhood, have actually made that argument. President Obama, as a state senator in Illinois, actually refused to support a bill that would protect infants born alive after botched abortions, which implies at least de facto support of at least one form of infanticide.

So, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to me to say that the Democrat platform could embrace a form of infanticide at some point. But at the present moment, that is not the case. What would Evans say if that were to change? Would she conclude that infanticide is a bridge too far, and any party that commits itself to the moral legitimacy of such a barbaric practice has no moral credibility whatsoever? I would certainly hope so. And yet, for us who hold pro-life convictions, what really is the difference between infanticide and abortion? Why would we conclude that commitment to one practice is a horrific, disqualifying moral calculation of a depraved mind, and the other is a tolerable moral flaw? Are the two acts really that dissimilar? Does traveling through the birth canal so dramatically change one’s moral status that we can imagine that advocacy of killing at one point is regrettable yet tolerable, but killing a few minutes later is moral insanity?

David Duke, the former Klansman, is once more running for office. If I lived in Louisiana and were given the opportunity to vote for him, I would never do it, no matter how impressive his positions might be on any range of issues. The man is a racist, which I consider to be a disqualifying moral fault. I would imagine that most thoughtful Americans would share my conviction on that. But is a commitment to racism demonstrably worse than a commitment to the legitimacy of the practice of abortion? What moral calculation leads one to arrive at such a convoluted conclusion? We who regard human life as the image of God have a moral responsibility to refuse to give our votes to any politician who degrades it by affiliating with a party committed to defining a whole category of human beings outside the human race. This is a colossal moral error that taints every other issue the Democratic Party would seek to address. Failure to acknowledge that sad reality makes one complicit in the evil that Democrats perpetuate and defend.

3. The claim that poverty leads to more abortions stands in tension with the Democratic Party’s own platform, which calls for expanded access to abortion services through federal funding to pay for abortions.

Evans argues that poverty leads to more abortions, meaning a reduction in poverty would reduce the abortion rate. And yet, Democrats officially endorse federal funding to pay for abortion services for women who cannot afford them. That position would imply that poverty, to some degree, actually prevents abortions. Otherwise, why would they call for us all to foot the bill on behalf of those who can’t pay for their own abortions? So which is it? Does poverty cause abortions or restrict them? Who is right here: Rachel Held Evans or the Democratic Party that she is supporting in 2016?

4. There are numerous problems with Evans’s appeal for expanded access to contraception.

One problem is that I am not convinced at all that lack of access to contraception is a real problem in America. You can walk into any Walgreens, CVS, Kroger pharmacy, etc. and purchase condoms for a few dollars. I’m sure that some oral contraceptives are expensive (as is the case with many drugs), but I know that not all of them are. In any case, oral contraceptives are not the only method of contraception. Are we talking about a problem here that really exists?

An additional problem that arises here is that some oral “contraceptives” are actually not designed to operate as contraceptives but as abortafacients, which means expanded access to them would actually increase the abortion rate by causing more abortions at the earliest stages of human life (Evans will disagree here because she is not fully pro-life, on which see below). As for those pills that do operate primarily by a contraceptive method (i.e., by preventing conception), there is still debate about whether or not they employ an abortafacient method in at least some circumstances. I have no ability to resolve that debate, but I bring it up simply to point out that there is legitimate moral debate around the issue of oral contraception, and that forcing some Americans to violate their consciences by funding a practice that is against their own deeply held convictions is an option that should not be on the table in America. If that is what Evans means by expanding access to contraception, she is arguing for a policy that would trample the First Amendment.

But considered more broadly, as useful as true contraception may be at times, there is no way we will build a culture of life on expanded contraception. In fact, I would argue that contraception is one of the main culprits in the development of the culture of death in which we now live. Oral contraception, introduced in the 1960’s, is arguably the most significant factor that led to the sexual revolution, which necessarily entailed the decoupling of sex from procreation. Abortion simply extends that logic a little farther, for abortion is premised on the idea that sex need not lead to new life and all of the attendant responsibilities unless a woman decides that she wants new life to occur in that situation. The Democratic Party’s unwavering support of abortion rights cannot be divorced from its unwavering support of the sexual revolution. When a culture regards sex as a recreational activity (which contraception made possible) rather than a bond that unites two partners in covenant for life, with the power to create a new life to which they will commit themselves, that culture has no ability to become a life-affirming culture. It has been absorbed in selfishness that leaves baby carcasses in its wake, and simply saying, “More contraception!” will do absolutely nothing to change the cultural values that have led to such moral degeneration.

5. Evans’s arguments ignore the gains Republicans have made in the fight to protect human life and the potential gains thwarted by the presidency of Barack Obama.

In her opening paragraphs, Evans seems to imply that the two major political parties really cannot be distinguished on the issue of life. Neither one is perfect, so sometimes we may decide to vote for Republicans, and sometimes for Democrats, but we can do either in good conscience as pro-life voters.

This is simply nonsense. Now, I will be the first to say that the Republican Party has been abhorrent this cycle. I did not hear a word from the party’s nominee regarding abortion in his acceptance speech at the RNC a few weeks ago. He claims that he is now pro-life (because he has to, which is a testimony at least to the strength of the party’s platform), but I fear the party on the whole has been sucked in to the cult of a celebrity who does not share their convictions. Perhaps the best thing for the party would be for Trump to lose in November so that it can get rid of him and start rebuilding itself more in line with what it was before this year. So, I am taking a “wait-and-see” approach with the Republican Party, refusing to give their terrible nominee my vote but willing to consider them in the future if they will nominate better candidates.

But setting aside the 2016 cycle, we must acknowledge that, on the whole, we are dealing with two drastically different parties on the issue of life. Democrats, in their current form, are entrenched in the culture of abortion, but pro-choice Republicans are a rare breed. Sometimes the argument is made that, even when Republicans are in power, nothing ever changes with respect to abortion. That is simply not true. A Republican Congress in the 1990’s twice sent a bill to President Clinton outlawing partial-birth abortion. He vetoed it both times. When Congress sent the same bill to President George W. Bush, he signed it into law, and it remains in force today.

But the major legal battle on the question of abortion must be fought at the level of the Supreme Court, for it was the Supreme Court who in 1973 created a “constitutional” right to abortion for no reason in the first trimester of pregnancy, coupled with what amounts to the same right for virtually any reason in the second and third trimesters. In other words, the Supreme Court took the legal question out of the hands of the states and instituted a “one-size-fits-all” policy on the whole nation. Short of a constitutional amendment, the only way to undo that damage is to have a Supreme Court that would recognize the constitutional bankruptcy of Roe v. Wade and overturn it by upholding the principle that the Constitution means what it originally meant when it was written. Only then can the legal battle be fought state-to-state for more significant abortion restrictions.

In 2008, the Supreme Court consisted of four justices who likely would have voted to overturn Roe and five who wouldn’t. During the tenure of the next President, two liberal justices retired, and President Barack Obama appointed younger liberal justices to replace them, maintaining the same balance on the court. I am not the biggest fan of John McCain, but I think the outcome under a McCain presidency would have been very different, potentially tilting the court to a 6-3 conservative majority and enabling Roe to be overturned. But we didn’t elect John McCain, and a number of “pro-life” voters threw in their lot with the most extreme pro-abortion president in history. And what did we get for it? A more entrenched liberal majority on the court and the expansion of abortion practices through executive orders on the Mexico City policy and through Obamacare. Under Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party argued that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Under Barack Obama, the Democratic Party cheers abortions and demands that all taxpayers participate in them.

Let me make myself absolutely clear on this: if you voted for Barack Obama, you betrayed everything the pro-life movement stands for. Period.

Evans claims that legal restrictions on abortions won’t eliminate the practice. Of course not, just as legal restrictions on infanticide don’t eliminate that practice either. But if you compare abortion rates prior to the nationwide legalization of abortion in 1973 with abortion rates afterward, you will see a dramatic increase, even though that rate has been leveling off since then (but has never returned to what it was before). The bottom line here is that legal policy matters in the shaping of a culture. It doesn’t just matter a little bit. It is of massive significance. No culture that refuses to give legal protection to unborn life can ever hope to be a life-affirming culture.

And that brings me to my final point.

6. Evans does not fully endorse pro-life convictions, in spite of her claims.

After identifying herself as pro-life, Evans defines that claim in part by saying, “I believe the sacred personhood of an individual begins before birth and continues throughout life.” That is a very good statement, so far as it goes. But Evans is an intelligent, careful writer who knows exactly what she is doing here. The words “before birth” do not specify at what point before birth human personhood begins, leaving some measure of ambiguity in her statement.

I am not splitting hairs here, because Evans herself goes on to write the following:

While it would be easier to debate one another if reproductive issues fell neatly into black-and-white categories of right and wrong, good and evil, most of us recognize this is simply not the case.  The fact that a woman’s body naturally rejects dozens of fertilized eggs in her lifetime raises questions about where we draw the line regarding the personhood of a zygote. Do we count all those “natural abortions” as deaths? When does personhood begin—at fertilization? implantation? the presence of brainwaves? the second trimester?  There is disagreement among Christians about this, (and historically, even among evangelicals), so is it really my place, or the government’s job, to impose my beliefs on people of all faiths and convictions? If abortion is criminalized, should every miscarriage be investigated by police? Should in vitro fertilization be outlawed? Most of us would question whether this couple should have been forced to deliver their stillborn baby, or this woman told by her insurance company that terminating a desperately wanted but unviable pregnancy counted as an abortion.Given the complex nature of these and other issues, the degree to which the government should make decisions on behalf of women and families regarding pregnancy is, and should be, debatable. 

Call this what you will, but it is not a fully-formed pro-life conviction. Evans is convinced that personhood begins at some point before birth, but she remains non-committal about when, implying that the debate surrounding the issue should lead us to err on the side of permissiveness rather than restriction. That’s like seeing an unidentified object in the middle of the road that might or might not be a child, and choosing not to swerve to miss it because you’re just not sure.

I have said before that science cannot define morality for us, but it can inform us on how to make moral choices. In this case, we face a dilemma of knowing how to define the point of development at which the rights of human beings are to be recognized by our government as worthy of protection. The most natural conclusion to draw is that human rights are to be recognized whenever the “thing” we are discussing actually becomes a human being. Scientifically, we know that once a sperm unites with an egg and the chromosomes align, the human embryo has a DNA sequence that makes it neither sperm nor egg but something new. That DNA sequence remains unchanged throughout all stages of human development. Scientifically, there is absolutely no reason to assume that it becomes a human being at some point subsequent to conception. It is ironic that the candidate who loudly proclaimed “I believe in science” during her acceptance speech at the DNC all of sudden becomes agnostic in the face of clear scientific evidence that a human embryo is, indeed, a human being at the earliest stage of development. The fact that many human beings are naturally aborted due to the tragic realities of this fallen world is no more an argument for ambiguity about their personhood than is the natural occurrence of SIDS an argument for the ambiguity about the personhood of infants.

I am glad to see Evans affirm something like a pro-life conviction. It’s certainly better than the rabid pro-choice commitments of her preferred candidate. But she does not represent the pro-life movement, either in her convictions or in the public policies she supports through the candidates she prefers. Pro-life voters would do well to consider how her lack of a fully-formed pro-life conviction colors the way she evaluates the issue of voting.

I regard it as my moral obligation to stand against the greatest atrocity in our nation’s history, with a death toll now well over 50 million lives. No candidate who would prop up the status quo on this deathly serious issue has any claim to even a moment’s consideration that I might possibly vote for him or her. Someday, I hope future generations will look on our culture of death as a bizarre, outdated relic of a past age, much as we do with chattel slavery. If that day ever comes, I want to be aligned with those who saw the full extent of the evil that so many cultural elites did not see at the time.

We look back on the 1930’s and 1940’s and wonder how so many German Christians stood by and watched the Nazis target an entire class of people for annihilation. I hope I am not too hasty to draw Nazi comparisons, but in this case, is it really all that far off base? As a national policy, a whole category of human beings has been regarded as sub-human, and thus unworthy of government protection, for over 40 years now. I am deeply disappointed with the Republican Party this year, and if the Trump trajectory continues beyond this election cycle, I will regard it as a party that has moved away from me. But I have long since concluded that the moral bankruptcy of the Democratic Party is not something I can hold my nose and overlook under any circumstances. It is something that all who value human life must oppose. To stand with any Democrat at the national level is to stand with the culture of death.

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