Should the abortion issue determine how Christians vote? – a review

A facebook friend alerted me to this thoughtful video posted recently by Holy Post podcasters – Phil Vischer of vegietales fame, and ordained minister Skye Jethani. The hosts answer the provocative question with a carefully qualified “No.” They believe Christians should not let the abortion issue determine how they vote. After watching the video myself, and weighing their case, I have to disagree. Abortion should be the key determining factor in voting. Yet this stance doesn’t have to reduce to “single issue voting” either (keep reading to see how). The most dire crime against humanity in our time should take precedence over all the other issues. They all matter, but they’re weighted differently.

This 15 minute video speaks to some deep ideological differences in the pro-life world. It’s sustained argument against the typically pro-life emphasis on federal and state restrictions on abortion. Unfortunately, the producers fail to note some key distinctions, undercutting their case.

There is clearly some great content in there. After a short intro from Phil, Skye takes over as host and acknowledges that the reported abortion rate is declining, and he’s probably right that some republican and democrat efforts have together helped reduce that abortion rate (i.e., pro-life laws plus contraception). He also affirms the complexity of the situation by acknowledging layers of causes affecting women’s choices, and affirming the need for wholistic support for women and families with unplanned or difficult pregnancies.

We can agree that it’s clearly not as simple as “vote for a republican presidents and that will directly end abortion.” I commend him for emphasizing the importance of local and community-based efforts to care for women and families in need.

That said, presidents, SCOTUS, and congress still make a HUGE difference – and Skye’s efforts to downplay that fact are egregious.

Roe V. Wade clearly legalize abortion

First, Skye says Roe v. Wade didn’t legalize abortion. He is fundamentally mistaken from the outset as Roe v. Wade clearly and demonstrably legalized abortion at the federal level. Before that time, abortion was relegated to the states, to decide how they want to do it. But with RvW, every state now has to open their doors to abortion. It’s misleading, even dishonest to say that RvW didn’t legalize abortion since states that had banned it beforehand now have to allow it. That’s legalization.

Abortion-restricting laws demonstrably reduce abortions.

Second, we know that laws and court cases can have a huge impact on abortion rates because they already have. The abortion rate escalated with state-level measures from around 1,000 in 1966 to almost 600,000 abortions by 1972 (still before RvW). Accounting for under-reporting, that’s still between 600% and 6,000% rise. And when abortion was federally legalized in 1973, that 600,000 abortion number jumped by a third the next year, and doubled within 3 years. [Source: JohnnstonArchive].

Michael New of Lozier Institute has also shown that federal and state laws measurably reduced abortion rates. Even Guttmacher Institute, a Planned Parenthood stalwart, admits that resticting abortion funding reduces abortions up to 25%.

A Faulty Comparison

Third, the speaker draws a faulty comparison between Texas, one of the largest states in the union, and Delaware, one of the smallest. He’d do better to compare Texas to New York, or California as they are going to share more socio-economic and population parallels. He uses this comparison to ground one of his major points – about how pro-life laws are less effective than Democrat efforts. But Delaware reports less than 2,000 abortions yearly, while Texas reports around 55,000 abortions yearly. Delaware’s rate is so small, that if an abortion clinic opened nearby, out of state, servicing a hundred abortions from Delaware residents that year, that could shift the state’s abortion rate enough to account for their supposed “democrat-caused abortion decline.”

Prolife laws in the Obama Admin.

Fourth, Skye dubiously credits Obama for the abortion decline in his term but for 6 of his 8 years in office, there was a republican majority in house and senate. In that time from 2011-2016, there were 334 abortion-restricting laws passed at the state level – more than any other five year period since RvW (1973). Hundreds of abortion clinics were shut down in that time, for lack of business, regulatory challenges, and reduced funding.

guttmacher18

Smart Phones: The forgotten factor

Fifth, the prime mover behind the declining abortion rate is probably not coming from prolifers or prochoicers. It’s smart phones. As young people are spending an average of 5hrs a day on their phones, that’s 5hrs they’re not fooling around with their boyfriend or girlfriend. The abortion rate naturally drops when the unplanned pregnancy rate drops as young people are having less sex. While I’m not celebrating screen addiction, there is a silver lining. To be fair, prolifers cannot take credit for this but neither can moderates and prochoicers. This factor does show that that young people are going to have lots of sex no matter what. Neither are a substantial number of unplanned pregnancies historically inevitable. Prolifers don’t need to throw in the towel just yet, as if the political cultural war is so far gone that we have to retreat from the public sector.

As young people are spending an average of 5hrs a day on their phones, that’s 5hrs of not fooling around with their boyfriend or girlfriend. The declining abortion rate has many causes.

Senate majority matters

Sixth, and this is a big one, Skye fails to clarify how presidents alone cannot appoint supreme court justices. Their nomination has to be confirmed by the senate. In this light, his reference to an 8:1 “republican” ratio for SCOTUS justices in 1992 becomes 7:2 democrat. There was a blue streak in the senate from 1957-1981 where at least 9 supreme court justices appointed by republican presidents were confirmed by a democrat majority senate in that time. Those are some KEY years for SCOTUS cases (Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, etc.). Likewise there were 3 more supreme court appointments in the Reagan-Bush era during a democrat majority senate.

Historical revision

Seventh, Abortion was NOT legal in 1776. Skye is flat wrong here, likely because of skewed and bad reporting in some of the pro-choice history books. In the 18th century, the early United States was still operating under British Common law and the brits had forbade abortion. They defined abortion as deliberate termination of a pregnancy at any point during or after the “quickening” (first felt movement from the baby; roughly 16-25 weeks). According to the scientific standards of that time, that was when a new human being begins. They didn’t know about genetic conception at the time. How could they? Genetics wasn’t a field back then.

“Spirit of ’76” by Archibald Willard (1875)

The point is that the earliest known moment of new human life was when the threshold of protection applies. Abortion was banned in all 13 colonies, according to the best science at the time. As scientific insights have sharpened, and we now know that new human life begins at conception, we can apply the same principle they did in 1776 – extending the threshold of protection to the onset of new human life at conception.

Prooftexted Quote

Eighth, Skye quotes from John Sedalia (1874) without apparently realizing that the existence of illegal abortion in that time isn’t proof that abortion was socially accepted. We could call crack-cocaine “reckless disregard for life” and that is no kind of proof that crack-cocaine is legal, ethical, or even tolerated. At best, the quote means that people had come to realize, with evolving science at the time, that the quickening was not a good benchmark for defining abortion. Yet, even then it makes good sense that moral advocates were following the rising Republican tide at that time (i.e., the anti-slavery and humanitarian progressive party of that era), pushing the threshold back further and further as we were learning more about fetology.

Dubious History

Ninth, Skye’s claim that there were 800,000 U.S. abortions in 1930 is dubious. Historian and veteran researcher Marvin Olasky quoting an abortion-advocate’s claim of 403,200 says even that number is suspect as the methdology was questionable and likely inflated. The 1930’s abortion craze, however, was real but it was stimulated by the Bolshevik revolution, as many academic and elitist liberals of that time were enamored with the social engineering in communist Russia including eugenics legislation, scientific racism, and population. If pro-choicers or prolife moderates today want to locate their movement within a humanitarian and equalitarian narrative, they would be better off bypassing this unfortunate era in abortion history. [Source: Olasky]

Source: DNAIndia, “The Russian revolution: a Centenary without Celebration” (2017; Online)

Overturning Roe could still be a huge Pro-Life victory

Tenth, and lastly, if RvW were overturned, it may or may not spell a drastic limitation on abortions but that depends on how that ruling goes. If it were to interpret the constitution as generally banning abortion at the federal level that would heavily constrain what states are allowed to do – states cannot “legalize” what federal law has banned as a violation of constitutional rights. If the court, however, merely reverted abortion-laws to the state level, then it might not make as big a difference. And Skye’s “most optimistic 12%” reduction in abortions would still be almost 100,000 lives saved. That’s HUGE! He admits this later but seems to be forgetting that anti-abortionists aren’t utopians. None of us expect the abortion rate to drop to zero (or nearly zero) even if RvW were overturned. None of us are expecting to totally end all abortions, just like banning murder never halted all murders.

***

Overall, this video had a lot of potential, and it still makes some good points, but it draws some dangerous and defeatist conclusions surrendering the point at issue. The video is deeply mistaken for downplaying the critically important role of legislation and courts at both the state and federal level. And despite what Vischer and Jethani say, pro-life laws really do work and some of them have made a huge difference. So it’s vitally important that we reserve our votes for pro-life presidents, senators, and congressmen.

Of course we still need the sidewalk counselors, the prayer warriors, the mentors, adopting families, and babysitters, and everyone else working to make abortion unthinkable. We need the whole team. And we need a deep-ceded, long-term commitment, as Roe v. Wade wasn’t even fifty years ago. Historically that’s not a long time to cultivate a more mature humanitarian society with the courage and fortitude to stand up in defense of the most vulnerable among us.

We’re return then to the opening question: Should the abortion issue determine the vote for pro-life Christians? Yes, it absolutely should. That doesn’t have to mean we’re “single issue” voters. We’re just first issue voters. Once a politician gets the first issue right, then we can haggle over the other issues. Abortion in America isn’t the only issue that matters, but it is the most glaring injustice to date, and the deadliest crime against humanity in in history.

We can be first-issue voters. Candidates need to get the first issue right then they can start competing for our vote. Get that issue wrong, and they don’t get to compete. They’re disqualified. Our votes are saved for people who stand against abortion.

It would be silly to chide someone in 1862 for being “single issue” on the abolition of slavery – the most dire human rights crisis of that day. Yet, abortion has claimed far more lives than were even brought to North America throughout the entire transatlantic slave trade. Abortion has already consumed ten times as many human lives as the Holocaust. Yet this genocide-scale slaughter is happening under our noses.

When democrats and libertarians can line up on the most basic humanitarian principles, namely the right to life for all human beings, then they can start competing for our votes. Republicans can compete for our votes, as long as they stay true to the anti-abortion position. They can’t just expect our votes – taking us for granted — but they can compete for our votes, since there lots of other issues matter too like character and credibility, competence and wisdom, taxes, racial issues, economic policy, jobs policies, healthcare, foreign affairs, military, etc. We are committed to reducing and ultimately abolishing abortion. We aren’t just looking for a teasing carrot during campaign season.

Abortion is the deadliest crime against humanity in world history. https://intelligentchristianfaith.com/2015/06/24/abortion-is-the-worst-thing-ever-literally/

Fortunately, we can share all of values and common cause with the people in this video, even while we have an in-house debate over anti-abortion strategies. We can all speak out and work against the devastating effects of abortion in America. We can together work to reduce abortions while supporting and strengthening communities. Despite our disagreements we need courage and humility to work together through our points of agreement to help make abortion unthinkable.

More Recommended Reading:

Andrew Walker, “Abortion and Single-Issue Voting: A Reply to Phil Vischer” (19 Oct 2020).

Rammesh Ponuru & Robert George, “Voting for Life” National Review (1 Oct 2020)

Alexandra Desanctis, “Democrats on Abortion: Safe, Legal, and Unlimited” National Review (7 Nov 2019)

Alex Kasprak, “Abortion Rates Fall During Democratic Administrations and Rise During Republican Ones” (11 Nov 2016)

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