There’s an argument going around Facebook now-a-days that pro-lifers should actually be politically left because under Democratic presidents abortion rates have declined at faster rates than under their Republican counterparts. The idea is that democratic support for the poor alleviate the circumstances that cause women to want abortions. The thought is usually coupled with some form of disavowing pro-life legislation as being unnecessary and ineffective – as in, ‘We shouldn’t attempt to make abortion illegal or to restrict it. That’s a waste of energy. We should focus instead on fighting poverty and caring for women. If we do this, abortion rates will naturally fall.”
The assumption is based on abortion statistics reflected in graphs like the one above, which do clearly demonstrate large reductions in national abortion rates under Clinton and Obama.
There are 2 major problems with this line of thinking and I’m going to try to spell them out. One is a problem with the statistics; the other is a problem with the ethics.
First, let’s think for a moment together about the statistics. There’s a concept in statistics called a “lurking variable,” which is a circumstance or environment causing movement in a graph but that is not reflected in the graph itself. Well, global abortion statistics are riddled with lurking variables. Let’s brainstorm a few together.
State-Level Legislation – First and foremost are the large numbers of abortion laws of varying degrees of effectiveness passed at state levels under pro-life leadership. As you can imagine, hikes in state legislation are not at all correlated to the president, – in fact, the largest hike in regulations happened under Obama, who would have mightily opposed them! So could state laws account for the reduction in abortion rates under pro-choice terms? Of course they could.
Lag effects – Most pro-life legislation is passed at the state level. Pro-life presidents are important more for their appointment of judges that will uphold the legislation and for their impact on abortion funding, including overseas (i.e. the Mexico City policy). Which accounts for another lurking variable in national abortion stats: the impact of previous presidents. When a president appoints a pro-life judge, that judge continues on in their role long after the president has left office. So, judges appointed by Bush, for example, could be having a great influence long into the Obama administration (and unfortunately vice versa!)
Pro-life movement – A third major lurking variable is the pro-life movement itself. National abortion statistics reflect significant improvements in ultrasonic technology and information dissemination, both of which the pro-life movement has honed over the years for its purposes. This is, of course, all completely independent of the president in the White House.
So, let’s be very clear, although democratic policies could possibly unintentionally decrease abortion numbers, global statistics do not show ANY causation to that effect. While they do succeed in proving a cultural movement in the pro-life direction, they cannot and should not be used to credit the president with abortion rate reductions.
And if you want arguments for the fact that pro-life legislation at the state-levels do in fact decrease abortion rates, here’s an article that gives some numbers in that arena.
You could also just look at the graph itself. After Roe in 1973, which made abortion legal in all 50 states, abortion rates steadily climbed for over 10 years (until the pro-life movement really got organized and started becoming effective). Clearly, the legality of the situation does impact abortion numbers.
The second major reason why this line of reasoning should be avoided by conscientious Christians is an ethical one. Here’s the thing: Democratic presidents openly proclaim that to kill a baby is a moral and courageous choice. In other words, they celebrate the death of innocents. This fact should give anyone who thinks themselves remotely pro-life significant pause before throwing these politicians your support.
Blogger Glenn Peoples uses a parallel scenario to help make this point. Imagine a political party often and boldly celebrated black lynching, but their economic policies happened to make it less likely that whites would want or need to lynch blacks, and so overall the numbers of blacks killed under their regime were fewer than under a different political party, a party that called black lynching evil. Do you think it would be right to vote and support the racist party in this scenario?
Most of us would recoil against such crass pragmatism. We understand intuitively that law is about justice and that verbally and legally supporting something fundamentally unjust is itself an injustice. So why do we allow an exception for abortion? One party celebrates it, another calls it what it is – the murder of babies. Can we really live with supporting the party that tells women to kill their children, even if their policies did happen to make it less common (which, as argued above, is not at all a certainty)?
We need to be very aware in the pro-life movement that we’re not just fighting for babies, we’re fighting for our culture. We’re fighting for the values of family and justice and self-sacrifice and love. We’re fighting against the rampant sexual promiscuity that is destroying our young people, (promiscuity that is exacerbated by a pro-choice tendency to throw contraception at even the youngest of teens). We’re fighting against the strongholds of me-first and career-first mentalities that have left many lonely and empty.
To support leaders who will encourage all of these things and who will lead us further and further down the dark path we’ve been choosing as a culture should not be an option on our tables.
So, to those of you who call yourself pro-life, have courage to stand for what’s right, and don’t let misused statistics and ethical pragmatism make you question that stance. We need to stay united if we’re going to win this battle.