A Pro-Lifer Ethical Dilemma: Would You Vote Blue to Save Lives?

So, we’re knee-deep in the Kavanaugh hearings–the reason, we’re told, why so many otherwise good, kind, Christian people voted for an immoral, violent, wannabe dictator. With Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court will be solidly conservative for a generation and thus able to, if not reverse, then at least eviscerate Roe v. Wade. That’s the goal, right–to end abortion?

Not so fast. That argument doesn’t have merit on two accounts:

First, it’s measurably not accurate. LifeWay, the research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (which certainly has no reason to underestimate opposition to abortion rights), did the math on this one: Among both white evangelical pastors and congregants, neither “Supreme Court nominees” nor “abortion” were the primary motivation for their vote. In research by Pew, respondents were asked not to rank issues (as the Lifeway survey did) but simply to identify which ones were “very important”: 52% of white evangelicals said abortion was, and 70% said the Supreme Court was. While those numbers are robust, terrorism, the economy, immigration, foreign policy, and gun control were all more commonly called “very important” by respondents. Add to this the fact that Republican presidential nominees have campaigned as pro-lifers concerned about the future of the Supreme Court since before I was born but support for Trump was unusually high: if abortion was the issue all along for white evangelicals, why didn’t more of them vote for Romney or McCain?

Because it’s not abortion driving their votes.

Second, we know that overturning Roe won’t end abortion, any more than the rash of abortion clinic closings in Texas ended abortion. While the rate of abortions in clinics declined, the use of Misoprostol, which is available over the counter in Mexico and via telemedicine in the US, increased. While we don’t know what percent of the “missing” clinic abortions now happened at home, at least some of them did. Even if pro-lifers don’t care about the increased risks these pose to women (and remember that Texas clinics were forced to close under a now-repealed law that said they were not regulated enough), policies that lead to the increase of the use of Misoprostol should worry them, because this pushes women into a market where they are much, much harder to find, which also means they are harder to find to dissuade from pursuing abortions.

Above, young white women hold signs from Students For Life at a rally. They say “I am the Pro-Life Generation.” Protests against legalized abortion are pointless if you aren’t voting for politicians who will also make it possible for women with children to live above the poverty line–and those happen to be pro-choice politicians.

But I get the problem: for many pro-lifers, the issue isn’t actually about reducing abortion. It is about overturning Roe and narrowing abortion rights. I think there are some sincere folks out there who believe that you can’t build a culture of life on a legal system that recognizes the right to have an abortion. You can’t have good fruit from a bad tree. (Yes, they are then hypocrites for voting for a man who has probably–and we all can recognize would do so again–paid for his share of abortions. But that is a post for another day.)

I don’t accept that argument.

If you think that abortion is a national tragedy and a collective sin (a position that I’m very sympathetic to), a violation of human rights and akin to the Holocaust, then you should make it your number 1 voting priority. You should always vote in such a way as to save fetal life (the “pre-born,” as pro-lifers often say). There is nothing that should stand in your way of that.

Including allegiance to the Republican party.

The GOP says it is pro-life, but it’s not. (I don’t simply mean that it pro-life until birth, which is also true. Remember that this is the party that fights against basic health care for pregnant women and sick children.) I mean that, under Republican leadership, abortions increase.

See the source image

Above, a graph showing the decline of abortion in the US over time. While every woman has her own story, broad trends are clear: better, cheaper birth control and more economic opportunities for women result in fewer unwanted/unplanned pregnancies and fewer abortions.

Unsurprisingly, conservative policies lead to increased rates of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. When we ask women why they get abortions, the answers are pretty consistent: socioeconomic reasons. Pregnancies, babies, and childrearing are incredibly expensive, and they come with a lot of opportunity costs. A woman who has a child will rarely make up her lost earnings over a lifetime, and men simply don’t bear those costs to the same degree. Motherhood makes women poor and keeps them poor.

So it makes sense that unplanned and unwanted pregnancy rates are highest in states with Republican lawmakers and governors. If you wanted a formula for increasing unplanned pregnancy, it would look like this: no comprehensive, compulsory sex ed; high rates of sexism so that women’s value is measured terms of their relationships to men; opposition to health care expansion; high levels of religious conservatism that make it difficult for young people to ask parents for support in making good choices about sexual activity and contraception; high rates of poverty; and many, many people living on the edge of not making it.

Whether these are GOP policy objectives, these are what their policies achieve.

Image result for unplanned pregnancy by state

In contrast, progressive policies do the most to combat the poverty that women face when they get pregnant: equal pay initiatives, comprehensive sex ed, access to reliable birth control, social welfare policies proven to lift people out of poverty, and universal health care.

Countries that have those things have lower rates of abortion, even though they have less restrictive abortion laws.

Countries that don’t have them have higher rates of abortion, even though they have more restrictive abortion laws.

Pro-lifers have to ask themselves: Do I care more about supporting a political party that makes policies that lead to abortion, or do I care about actually saving the lives of the unborn? If given the chance to actually reduce abortion rates, will I do that, or will I choose to continue to vote in ways that result in more abortions? If your vote for a Democrat saved a life, would you pull the lever for a Democrat? (If not, then you are not a pro-life voter.) If given the choice between overturning Roe but not reducing the number of abortions or leaving it stand and saving fetal life, what would you do? Because, even though most Americans see things in a more nuanced way, those are the options Republicans, by refusing to do anything we know reduces unplanned/unwanted pregnancies, have given us.

Holding on to the GOP means you are voting for more abortions. If you do that so that you feel righteous about your pro-life vote, then you are prioritizing your desire for ideological purity above the lives you say are so important. I know why people live with that: because abortion isn’t the issue they care most about, no matter what they say. But I have no idea how you will explain it to God when you get to heaven.


*I know that there are some people who are pro-life who are consistent in their position and put their money where their mouths are. I think they need to vote for Democrats, even pro-choice ones. Personally, I am a pro-life voter: every vote I make is motivated by this question: Which candidate’s work while in office is most likely to improve conditions for women and children, which consequently reduces abortion rates?

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