Voting for death to save life?

Ethics Politics

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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.

Glenn Peoples

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.

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{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Brendan Larsen August 3, 2016, 12:35 pm

    Thanks for the good article. I agree with much of what you’ve written. But I’d like to add that it’s likely that the only reason that the abortion rate in the USA (and in NZ and other western nations) generally seems to be going down is because of an increased use of the pill and the morning after pill – both of which actually can cause what is effectively an abortion as part of how they work is by reducing the chances of a fertilized embryo from implanting into the uterus.
    In terms of the overall discussion I don’t consider there to be any significant difference between Trump and Hillary -the former is pro-life with exceptions, and the latter is pro-choice. Would people vote for someone that said they were pro-life with exceptions when it came to gassing Jews? Sadly it would seem that many professing Christians would. Abortion is murder and it is genocide. Abortion needs to be abolished totally, not regulated.

  • Glenn August 3, 2016, 12:46 pm

    “both of which actually can cause what is effectively an abortion as part of how they work is by reducing the chances of a fertilized embryo from implanting into the uterus.”

    I stayed away from that partly because of the word “can” and the uncertainty about what proportion of the time it happens. As it’s only sometimes, I would still grant that the overall number is coming down. I also like to deal with as few controversies as possible in one post. 🙂

  • David Hillary August 3, 2016, 12:57 pm

    Hmm… so you aren’t a consequentialist? We may not do evil that good may result? (Rom 3:8).

    The distinctively Christian approach is that we must be perfect (Mat 5:48), we can’t do any evil, however small, in the name of fighting bigger evils or doing greater goods. Jesus was perfected by suffering the consequences of others sins, rather than repaying evil to sinners (Heb 2:10). The gospel message is the message not of Jesus paying the Father for sins, but of not counting sins at all (1 Cor 5:19). God just forgives, and he requires us to just forgive as well. Forgiveness means not using evil to enforce payment.

    The obligation we have is ‘do no evil’ to a neighbour. This obligation is absolute and unconditional, and always applies. The guilt of the neighbour is no defence and no justification for any kind of evil. (Rom 13:8-10)

    So, when we are dealing with those who sin against us, we may not use or threaten to use any form of evil against our debtors to make them pay us their debts. Sure debts may be owed, and debts should be paid (Rom 13:8-10). But failure to pay debt does not justify doing evil to collect money. Dragging people to court, handing them over to the officer, and putting them in debtor’s prison are the signs of the old evil age Jesus came to end (Luke 12:54-59). Dragging people to court is what the rich evil people of this world do (James 2:6, Mat 18:28).

    Instead of dragging people to court, we have an alternative remedy: take them before the assembly, and at worst, shun them for failure to listen to the assembly (Mat 18:15-17). Shunning evil people is not doing evil to them, it is just withdrawing from them, as God does from sinners.

    Now think about what this means when it comes to dealing with social problems. It means we can’t use coercion or evil as means to the end of social order or addressing dangers and social problems. For example, the resort to military force is precluded:

    Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs? (Tertullian, The Chaplet, Ch XI)

    If we cannot even sue our neighbour, and hand him over to the force of the law, to ‘justified’ coercion to collect legitimae debts, then we are necessarily precluded from using more violent and coercive means such as the sword of military force.

    So back to the ‘social problem’ of abortion. Ok we understand and teach abortion is evil, and prohibited. But by what means shall we respond to those who do this evil? Shall we visit upon them the force of the law? Shall we institute, sanction and employ courts of judgement against others when Jesus prohibited judgement (Mat 7:1-2)?

  • Laura Brown August 3, 2016, 5:02 pm

    Thank you for this article. It was certainly very thought provoking. As I was reading it, I was thinking two things. The first, was the point that Brendan made, the other is that the biggest problem in the fight to end the legalized murder of pre-born image bearers, is, in fact, ‘pro-life’ laws that regulate murder. We wouldn’t have supported a Nazi policy that made sure that gas chambers were sanitary, and we wouldn’t have supported legislation that made sure that you couldn’t lynch a black slave unless the one doing the lynching was a board certified doctor. I was wondering if you have looked into the difference between being ‘pro-life’, and being an abolitionist?

  • Glenn August 4, 2016, 11:54 am

    Laura, I’m curious now. What pro-life laws are you thinking of that regulate murder? The pro-life community that I am familiar with wants to see abortion illegal under nearly all circumstances.

    I’m familiar with a movement that thinks abolitionism is a superior term to “pro-life.” But the pro-life movement that I know does indeed want to see abortion abolished.

  • bethyada August 4, 2016, 7:26 pm

    Excellent!

  • katecho August 13, 2016, 9:37 am

    Brilliant use of satire. Very effective at revealing the fallacy of Rachel Held’s reasoning.

    As far as the term “abolitionist”, we should be aware of the historical distinction between radical (murderous) abolitionists in pre-Civil War America (see John Brown), and those who were anti-slavery in the manner of St. Paul with Onesimus and Philemon. We don’t need another Paul Hill vigilante running around shooting at abortion providers.

    If the time comes for an viable opportunity to disobey and nullify the laws regarding abortion, we should do it representationally and orderly, through a lesser magistrate or pastor, and not as individuals just popping off like rebels. Due process is a good thing, even when the need comes to conscientiously disobey wicked superiors.

  • David Hillary August 13, 2016, 11:12 am

    In response to katecho:
    Where do you get the idea of waiting for viable opportunities to disobey man’s law and obey God’s law? Did Jesus give us a list of pre-conditions for obeying his teaching? Or a list of exceptions?

    Where do you get the idea that we should seek to change the coercive political structure representationally? Or that it should be by way of a lower power rebelling against a higher power?

  • Brian August 19, 2016, 9:59 pm

    Hello Glenn,
    I concur with your deconstruction of R. H. Evans’s argument though I’m not committed to either side of the abortion debate. Admittedly I find myself leaning toward the “pro-choice” side more often.

    But the part of your post that motivated this comment, a rare occurrence for me, lay in your “disclaimer”. I vehemently agree with all of your thoughts about voting except for your endorsement of “non-voting” if there is no candidate who you would want to see hold office (abstention of voting). I agree in principle but in reality your abstention from the voting process gives more weight to the votes cast by the people who support the candidate you oppose. This allows the opportunity for “political hijacking”, which is to say that even though a candidate who holds the political opinion reflected only by a very few is allowed to be elected.

    It is this very abstention from voting that has produced the present political climate in the U.S. is exactly how Dolnald Trump came to be the official Republican candidate.

    And there are more presidential candidates than what are talked about in the “mainstream-media”, there lies the problem. But if you actually look into it I am fairly certain anyone can find a candidate who they can support.

    As you mention in your disclaimer you don’t live in the U.S. so I could understand why you might endorse “non-voting” if you live in a country where the majority of the population votes and your lack of participation in the political process doesn’t significantly contribute to the demise of your country AND hold true to your conscience at the same time. But unfortunately here in the United States for whatever reason most people don’t vote, and many of those who do vote cast their ballot based on bad information. And therefore the promotion of the idea of abstention (non-voting) in the US is a dangerous one. I recognize a distinction between apathy towards political participation and the decision not to vote as a protest but both result in the same effect.

    My Disclaimer: I understand that this is not the primary topic of the blog post but it dose relate to what you wrote, however small of a side thought it is. I humbly ask you not to discard my comment on the “off-topic” grounds. Also this is only the second blog post of yours that I’ve read so I’m not as familiar with your work as one should be before they become critics. I’m eager to hear about any flaw in my logic, or disagreement of opinion.

  • T'sinadree August 20, 2016, 5:33 am

    Brian,

    Your position is nicely articulated, but I’m inclined to agree with Glenn’s thoughts on voting. Personally, at its foundation, I think the situation represents a choice, on some level, between a consequentialist view of ethics (i.e., the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct), or a deontological one (i.e., the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves). The following editorial is a short, but well-presented, read which discusses how these relate to the election: http://moralapologetics.com/when-conscience-trumps/.

  • Anthony Robin September 3, 2016, 7:44 am

    To the above group are you people atheists, secularists or christians? All of you without exception believed that abortion is murder, but in actuality none of you knows for sure. Human nature is such that we based our beliefs on such principles which are: ‘I like that therefore it must be true’ and ‘I don’t like this therefore it must not be true’. That’s how we go through life making our choices. More often than not we reject the truth for the most emotionally satisfying choice even if it’s completely wrong for us. What if abortion is actually not murder??? Do pro-lifers really want to understand that? Do the atheists really want to understand the concept of ‘SOUL’? Do the christians really want to understand that the SOUL doesn’t enter the fetus until the 14th week? Can anyone of you actually explained of what it means to be ‘HUMAN’? As long we are ignorant of our true nature, as long as we deprived ourselves of SELF-KNOWLEDGE, then we will continue that useless debate. Remember the sign atop the entrance of Plato’s school: ‘MAN, KNOW THYSELF’. Substitute ‘HUMAN’ for ‘MAN’. To the christians: how can you oppose abortion WHICH IS NOT MURDER, when you believed that the so-called ‘god’ of the old testament ordered the Israelites to go murder every innocent man, woman and child–already born–not to mention the sick the lame and the old, just to be able to take their lands? And yet, you people accept the genocide committed by the so-called ‘chosen people’???

  • Glenn September 4, 2016, 7:27 pm

    “What if abortion is actually not murder?”

    Surely if you believe that, Anthony, it’s just because you’d like it to be true.

    Or are pro-lifers the only ones who are subject to human nature like that? 🙂

  • MATTHEW J MURRAY September 6, 2016, 7:30 am

    Glenn, this doesn’t have to do with the specific topic in the abortion discussion that you are mentioning here. but none the less I’ve just come across one of the most challenging essays on abortion and “self defense” in regards to the restrictive stance. The ideas presented are worthy of analysis. When you have a chance I really think you should read. It has to do with the difficulty of beig pro life with the exception of moms life. (An exception I refuse, ferociously, to abandon).

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://eclass.uoa.gr/modules/document/file.php/PPP504/Davis%2520Nancy,%2520Abortion%2520and%2520self%2520defence.pdf&ved=0ahUKEwik84DZ-fjOAhWEWh4KHau2AjAQFggbMAA&usg=AFQjCNE98-gEbicq22taDGJQQqBxPlUj8A&sig2=kCnlrZOoTmuCrQCuZpSeKQ

  • David September 18, 2016, 2:52 pm

    Glenn, from everything that you have written above I can only conclude that you are not at all pro-life, you are pro-forced birth.

    The very best way to reduce the incidence of abortion is the very same thing that those who claim to be “pro-life” rail against the most.

    First and foremost is full and comprehensive, evidence based, sex education. The mechanics of sex, the mechanics of pregnancy and ways to minimise the chances of an unwanted pregnancy.

    Second is widely available and affordable, if not free, contraception. This can take the form of condoms, gels, pills, dams, etc. to suit the needs of individuals.

    These two measures will not totally eliminate abortion, but it is scientifically proven that reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies reduces the number of abortions.

    Abortion is not murder, it is a simple medical procedure. A medical procedure is a matter for the patient and the doctor. A medical procedure is not a matter of morality, it is a matter of health.

  • Matt September 23, 2016, 11:43 am

    probably the best way to reduce the number of abortions, unwanted pregnancies would be to reduce the number of people living below the poverty line. Having a child or not does little to change social/economic mobility.

    Until economic matters are addressed, providing the poor, working class folk, and the like with affordable contraception, etc looks very much like eugenics. It’s a sinister band aid.

  • Glenn October 5, 2016, 8:48 am

    David, if forced birth just means forcing people to not kill a baby before it reaches birth, then sure. I bet you’re forced 10-years-old, as you oppose killing a child right before her 10th birthday.

  • David October 7, 2016, 3:00 pm

    Having a child or not does little to change social/economic mobility.

    Matt, that is a rubbish argument. Adding a child to a family already struggling to feed its existing members certainly lowers the social/economic mobility for that family.

    Until economic matters are addressed, providing the poor, working class folk, and the like with affordable contraception, etc looks very much like eugenics.

    A second rubbish argument in one post. Providing contraception to anyone is simply a matter of good public health.

    I’m buggered if i can see how you get eugenics out of that.

  • David October 7, 2016, 3:04 pm

    Glenn, you usually make more sense than this.

    Most abortions are performed in the first 12 weeks, there is most assuredly not a baby present at the time, only a potential baby.

    And you last sentence, no more sense in that than in matt’s eugenics comment.

    However, unlike you forced birthers, I would never make a 10 year old child carry a pregnancy to term. She is not ready, emotionally or physically for pregnancy and birth. She also lacks the capacity to parent. But forced birthers would rather her life is ruined than permit her a simple medical procedure that will allow her to live a full and happy life.

  • Glenn October 9, 2016, 7:50 pm

    David, I don’t think you’ve understood what is going on in this blog post. I was responding to an argument that was pitched to pro-lifers, and the argument granted their views on abortion. What I showed is that from that pro-life perspective – which holds that abortion is unjustifiable homicide – the argument to vote for a pro-choice candidate doesn’t work.

    That you don’t share their view on the status of what is aborted is not relevant.

  • Karen October 10, 2016, 8:23 am

    Evans lied anyway, Democrat Presidents don’t tend to be correlated with lower abortion rates in a way different from Republicans: http://shamelesspopery.com/abortion-rate-by-party/

  • Matt October 28, 2016, 1:16 pm

    “Matt, that is a rubbish argument. Adding a child to a family already struggling to feed its existing members certainly lowers the social/economic mobility for that family.”

    Why is this family already struggling?

    “I’m buggered if i can see how you get eugenics out of that.”

    perhaps you can explain to me what “good public health” means, then? Is that like “racial hygiene”?

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