The simple soundbites from both parties fail to do justice to the complexities of the issue. It leads me personally to conclude that voting on this one issue alone is not sound reasoning or sound politics.
The first time I was called a baby killer was in 1998. I ran as a Democrat for the Idaho State House of Representatives. Against the advice of more seasoned politicians from my party, I agreed to participate on a local talk radio program. The hosts began by saying how curious they found me to be. “On the one hand, you are a Mormon, but on the other hand, you’re also a Democrat. So are you pro-life or pro-choice?” I refused both terms. I said that I found the terms too loaded and too ambiguous to detail my views on an issue as complex as abortion. Before I could explain my position, or how I had arrived at it, the host asked if I supported the current version of a parental consent bill being considered by the legislature. I told her I did not, and began to explain why. The same bill had been passed by neighboring states and had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend in court only to be struck down. Again, I was interrupted before I could articulate what I thought would be a wiser approach. The host said, “So you’re a baby killer then?” I was flummoxed! I couldn’t believe she had gone there without giving me any opportunity to respond. She had passed her judgment, found me unworthy, and moved on. That rush to judgment and pronouncement left me frustrated and resolved not to treat people that way. Few, if any, topics are more controversial or more complex than abortion. Hopefully I can communicate my thoughts on the issue in a way that is thoughtful and not sanctimonious.
My beliefs on the morality of the issue are that “human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God.” This quote comes from a brief statement on abortion from my Church and reflects my own feelings. I believe life is sacred. I am the father of five children, and the grandfather of two. I hoped for, prayed for, and rejoiced with each child’s birth. I cannot imagine my life without them. I think it is wrong to end a pregnancy for personal or social convenience. I believe the power to create life is a sacred trust from God. I would never want to abuse those powers. I believe those who do abuse those powers will stand accountable to God someday.
Here are the problems I have with both political parties on the issue. First, the Democrats as “pro-choice.” This is a party that believes the government can help people make better, more informed choices. The party who thinks it is important to regulate food, drugs, the environment, etc. For this party to say it has no place to tell a woman what to do with her body seems contrary to their core beliefs. Save the whales, forget about the unborn, is hard to make sense of. The party’s position has evolved in recent years. In the 90s, the party’s line was abortion should be safe, legal and rare. Even as late as 2012, the Obama administration was still trying to get traction for a policy that reduced the need for abortions. The new party line seems now more focused on the right to have access to abortion, treating it as a medical procedure only, with no moral or ethical consideration. To be sympathetic to the idea that Black lives matter and yet not the lives of the unborn is intellectually incongruent, to say the least. You should read David Brooks’ piece on this. I agree with him that Democrats have moved too far on this issue. If your fundamental goal as a Democrat is the health and well-being of individuals, ignoring the moral complexities of this issue is irresponsible and (I believe) inconsistent with your ideology.
If Democrats are inconsistent and hypocritical with their position, Republicans are sycophantic and scattered. “Pro-life” means sooo many different things to different people. Here are some of my questions: What would it look like to legally restrict abortion as a means of birth control? Would you arrest providers, or women themselves? Would it be a state ban or a federal one? Would women who left the country to have an abortion be subjected to prosecution upon their return to the US? Would the law view all termination of a pregnancy the same as premeditated murder? I have also known some conservatives to go so far as to think that birth control methods like IUDs were akin to murder. In twenty plus years of talking with my conservative friends and lawmakers about this issue I have never heard or seen a policy from them that answers those questions. “Pro-life” to them seems to mean only an idea of being anti-abortion, which I am sympathetic to, but it doesn’t seem to translate into a clear, working policy. If the goal is to decrease the number of abortions, the data is clear that legally restricting the procedure does not reduce the number of abortions. Additionally, there is fair criticism that the Republican Party is pro-birth not pro-life. By not supporting aid for poor people, their access to healthcare, or the quality of their education, Republicans’ seemingly don’t put equal value or emphasis on life after birth.
I am sympathetic to why people vote exclusively on this issue. The problem for me, however, is neither party has a position that completely coincides with my moral view. In addition, not every candidate from the major parties views the issue in the same way that their party does. Not to mention that I think the parties sometimes feel less interested in honestly doing the right thing for people and more interested in fundraising and maintaining their party line narrative as a way to encourage people to vote for them. I am frustrated by the unwarranted certitude from many on the right and the smug superiority from those on the left. As this PEW data suggests, the vast majority of Americans understand the complexity of this issue. They realize that universal application is unrealistic when considering individual circumstances. The simple soundbites from both parties fail to do justice to the complexities of the issue. It leads me personally to conclude that voting on this one issue alone is not sound reasoning or sound politics.
You can be anti-abortion and think it should be legal. You can oppose abortion and not be a misogynist. I often hear people who say “How can someone be a Democrat? They are for abortion!” Or, “How can someone be a Republican? They hate women!” These logical fallacies do not account for other possibilities. You can be opposed to the criminalization of abortion and also oppose it as a means of birth control. You can both respect the right of a woman to make her own medical choices and still think there are moral consequences for terminating a healthy pregnancy. Likewise, you can acknowledge the moral complexities of terminating a healthy pregnancy and not hate women.
Good news abortion rates are falling. This excellent article explains why abortion rates are lower than they have been in forty years. Turns out, decades of global research indicate that legally restricting abortion is not correlated with a decrease in global abortion rates. Legality has proven largely irrelevant. In fact, “in countries where laws permit abortion only to save the life of the mother, the abortion rate is higher at 37 per 1,000 women than the rate of 34 abortions per 1,000 in countries without such restrictions.” Moreover, countries throughout Latin America—where the most restrictive abortion laws exist—actually have ‘both the highest rate of unintended pregnancies, 96 per 1,000 women, and the highest rate of abortions, 44 per 1,000 women.’ The data is clear. Nations that help women avoid unwanted pregnancies have the lowest abortion rates. If your goal is reducing the number of abortions, focusing on unwanted pregnices is the best way to go about it. Criminalizing abortion is not.
Even if Roe went away abortions wouldn’t. If the United States Supreme Court did away with Roe vs Wade, abortion does not go away, it just moves the decision to the states. Learn more about this here. Doing all we can in a bipartisan way to reduce unintended pregnancies seems the wiser course.
Please stop calling people baby killers and women haters. When you make the claim that Democrats are baby killers and Republicans hate women you lose the credibility that an issue like this deserves. It’s provocative language that is untrue, hurtful and invites division not civility. Also, when we use graphic videos that depict abortions, or use loaded language of moral absolutism, we often do harm to those who have struggled with pregnancy and infertility and a host of other complicated circumstances surrounding this most personal issue. Jeannie Gaffigin, a lifelong Catholic and a conservative, does an excellent job of addressing this in this must read piece.
To single issue voters I have learned from my own experience that politics, public policy and governing are complex. There are hundreds of issues that governments face. Political parties offer an ideological approach more than detailed policy initiatives. That’s beneficial to everyone. It allows for compromise. When we base our entire vote on a single issue, we often do so because we don’t want to engage in the messy complexities and ambiguities that a healthy republic requires.
So now what? I believe both parties could work together to reduce the demand for abortions. However, it will take people breaking out of their polarized partisan views. As with most issues, the first step is being able to talk about the issue in a way that allows those who disagree with us to be heard.