Abortion and politics are two areas where people’s ability to think is seriously compromised. People use and share arguments that employ reasoning they would never find acceptable in another setting. With the American Presidential election looming and with abortion being a perennial political hot potato (not that I realistically see any real change likely with either major candidate), the noise of contorted reasons for why you should vote for this or that candidate is rising to a deafening level.
This morning I spotted this argument being shared on Facebook by a prominent Christian blogger, as follows:
Knowing many of my pro-life friends feel torn between voting for an unpopular but highly qualified pro-choice candidate in Hillary Clinton and an incompetent narcissist who poses a unique threat to our American democracy in Donald Trump, I’d like to make a proposal:
You should vote for Hillary Clinton.
And I’d like to suggest that voting for a pro-choice candidate in this election, or any election, need not overburden your conscience. Here’s why..
What followed was a link to an article by this blogger (Rachel Held Evans), noting that the abortion rate has declined under President Obama, and that Hillary Clinton’s policies would likely mean there are fewer unwanted pregnancies than there would be under a Donald Trump presidency. I am not going to explore arguments about causation here, and I’ll grant, rightly or otherwise, that President Obama is responsible for the decline in abortions, and that there would be fewer unwanted pregnancies under Clinton and because of Clinton. I do not know that these claims are true but I am here accepting them as true. Evans also notes “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?” She also raises some very familiar concerns about the fact that many zygotes die naturally every year. For example, “If abortion is criminalized, should every miscarriage be investigated by police?” These are arguments for not taking a strong stand on the permissibility of abortion, but not, I think, very good arguments.
Nonetheless, quite apart from whether or not abortion really is homicide, her chief argument, or at least the one to which I am giving all my attention here, is a consequentialist argument: If you vote for candidate B, then although she is pro-choice on abortion, there will (probably) be fewer unwanted pregnancies if she is president, and consequently fewer abortions. Voting for a pro-choice candidate, in other words, is not a vote for abortion, and because the number of abortions would be smaller under the pro-choice candidate, you should vote for her. In order for this appeal to be interesting, I’m going to assume that the other major candidate is pro-life (although I recognise that, as Evans notes, Trump is patchy at best on this, although some make the argument that he would appoint Supreme Court Justices who would help the pro-life cause).
So there it is. Sure, candidate A may be pro-life and candidate B is pro-choice. But candidate B will bring about fewer circumstances under which women will want to have an abortion. So if you’re pro-life, vote for candidate B.
On the face of it, I think only a person who identifies as “pro-choice” on abortion could have written this. But since Evans says she is pro-life, I’ll revise this: Only a person who is pro-choice or a person who is strongly politically inclined to the left (and so predisposed to support Clinton), thus using arguments to that end when she would never reason this way under other circumstances, could have written this. To appeal to pro-lifers in this way is to fundamentally fail to hear them. In order to see this perhaps a bit more clearly, I want you to consider the following scenario in a parallel world:
Dear voters, I know you may be torn about the prospect of voting for Killary. I know you might think that black lives matter, and you are opposed to all these lynchings. The other candidate says he opposes lynching, just like you. I get it. But I want you to think more pragmatically. Killary says that black lives don’t matter, that killing a black is a matter of choice for the white owner. But if you actually look at her policies, Having Killary as president would probably reduce the need to lynching blacks. Lynching blacks isn’t something we want to do. It’s a hard choice to have to make. But the pressures that weigh on white folks that drive them to hang a black person in a tree would be far less if Killary became president. I don’t agree with lynching black people. I think it is immoral. It is unfair to call me pro-lynching black people. But there is a difference between thinking that lynching black people is immoral and saying that it should be illegal. So although you don’t share her view that black lives don’t (legally) count and that killing them is a matter of personal choice, if you really think black lives matter, you should vote for her.
I sincerely hope you would find the above appeal to be repulsive beyond belief. To dehumaise black people made in God’s image in this way, showing concern about their deaths merely as unfortunate events that other people must endure, embracing the crass consequentialism that is happy for us to completely devalue them as long as we can keep the bloodshed (at the hands of those who have every right to destroy them) to a respectable level – how could anyone who thinks that black lives matter embrace such a culture of death?
If you are repulsed by this fictional scenario but you think it is reasonable to appeal to people to vote for a presidential candidate because she favours the right to abort the unborn more than the competition but will (possibly) bring about lower numbers of abortion, then there’s a really good chance you haven’t thought about this from the point of view of someone who thinks that abortion is unjustified homicide, so if you’re pitching this argument to pro-lifers, the very people who think abortion is homicide, you should think again.
Disclaimer: I am not an American citizen. I do not live in the United States of America. Obviously I cannot vote in the upcoming presidential election. If I could vote, there is a very good chance that I would not vote. If I did vote, I am absolutely certain that I would not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I think either one of them would be a very bad choice for President. I also do not accept the argument that you should vote for one candidate because you oppose their rival. I think you should vote for a candidate only if you actually want that candidate to be president, OR if your vote can plausibly be considered a protest vote. I strongly support non-voting where there are no candidates that you actually want to be president. I also think that quite apart from the abortion issue, there is no sensible way to talk about Hillary Clinton as a “pro-life” friendly vote. It takes a hardy constitution to be able to talk about pro-life drone strikes.
- Obama, potential, and abortion
- Double standards about being pro-choice
- Is Abortion Healthcare?
- Abortion is so hot right now
- Episode 010: The Moral Argument, Part 2
- Free to discriminate, part 1