Should a Christian Vote for any Candidate Who is Less than 100% Pro-life?

 This post is the third of a four part series related to the 2012 Presidential Election.  Please consider reading the introduction which will also include links to all the articles as they’re posted.

The question is simple: should a Christian vote for any candidate who is less than 100% pro-life?

Before I get started, I’d like to point out that while the specific catalyst for this post is how it applies to Republican candidate Mitt Romney, there is also a much larger issue at stake here.  Directly, this specific issue of “mostly, but not totally pro-life” candidates comes up frequently.  Indirectly, the logic applied here will impact how we vote on other critical moral issues.

Current reality

Right now in the United States over 1.2 million babies are aborted every year.

Our Goal

I suspect we agree on the importance of Christians doing all they can to protect the lives of those who cannot protect themselves.  If we doubt the need for our involvement, there are plenty of Scriptural passages could be brought to bear – just for starters: Exodus 1:17-21, Psalm 82:3-4, Proverbs 24:11-12, Matthew 25:45, Luke 10:30-37, and James 1:27.

Romney’s Record

Mitt Romney was decidedly pro-choice for much of his time in the public spotlight.  This is common knowledge at this point.  However, according to Romney, he had a change of heart and is now firmly in the pro-life camp.

What are we to make of this?  To be clear, his history on this issue is complicated.  But does his record matter?

I’d certainly prefer a candidate with a stellar record on the issue, where I could see proof of their commitment even in the heat of political battles.  That notwithstanding, at least two of our recent presidents, Reagan and Bush 41, were also pro-choice prior to running for president, then ran as pro-life candidates.  Most importantly, they both governed throughout their presidency from a solidly pro-life position.  Clearly, a candidate’s record is important, but we should also recognize that genuine changes of heart on this issue do in fact occur.

There has also been a fair amount of hysteria stirred up regarding the 1999 investment of Bain Capital in a company called Stericycle, which is a medical waste disposal firm that, among other things, disposes of aborted fetuses.  Obviously, we would find involvement in such a company to be repulsive, but we should be careful not to jump to conclusions.  (If you want to research this issue on your own, Life News has a fairly comprehensive treatment of the issue that would be worth reading.)

First, consider that this story was pushed by the far left Mother Jones website in an attempt to dampen conservative enthusiasm for Mitt Romney.  Second, while Romney’s personal involvement in the deal has been debated (he retired from Bain in Feb. 1999 to run the Salt Lake Olympic Games), that isn’t even the issue.  It appears the first time Stericycle actively courted abortion providers was in 2003 with a concerted effort during the years of 2005-2007.  At this point, not only was Romney was long gone, but Bain Capital had sold its remaining interest in 2004.  Third, even if the Mother Jones version of the story were correct, Romney was still pro-choice at the time.  This doesn’t make it right, but it does mean that this issue wouldn’t reflect on his current pro-life position.

So was Romney’s pro-life “conversion” legitimate?  Only he knows for sure, but it would hardly be uncommon.  From 1995 to 2012 the number of Americans considering themselves “pro-life” increased from 33% to 50%, while the number identified as “pro-choice” dropped from 56% to 41%.  This represents approximately 15% of all Americans changing their view (source: Gallup).  Romney’s views changed over the same time as millions of other Americans.

9 Week Embryo – Used by Permission through Creative Commons license – Click image for full credit

Romney’s Current Position

In light of his consistent position over the past 5-6 years and the fact that his pro-life path is generally reasonable and believable (as outlined above), I’m going to take Romney’s current position at face value.

Romney believes abortion is wrong, but allows exceptions in the case of rape and incest.

I don’t agree with this view.  I believe that even in such difficult circumstances, killing an innocent human being is still wrong.  (For a more complete discussion of this question, Michael Stokes Paulsen recently wrote an excellent piece entitled, “The Right to Life and the Irrelevance of Rape“.)

So while I agree with Romney on 99% of abortions.  I believe his position on the 1% of abortions which occur due to rape and incest to be wrong.

This is not an inconsequential issue – those are still human beings being murdered.  However, the fact that we agree 99% of the time is not inconsequential either!

By the way, if you wish to read Romney’s official position it’s available on his website.  Now in light of Romney’s position, let’s look at the practical ramifications.

The Next 4 Years: There would be fewer abortions under Romney Administration than an Obama Administration

While it is impossible to determine exactly what the impact of either administration would be, we can make some pretty safe assumptions:

  1. Judicial Appointments – We know Republican Presidents have not always picked the best Supreme Court justices, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t picked some good ones.  We owe a debt of gratitude to Republican-appointed Justices like Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and (generally) Roberts.  With the next president likely appointing 2-3 justices on the Supreme Court I’d rather have Romney making those picks than Obama!  Why does this matter?  In addition to the possibility of seeing Roe v. Wade overturned at some point, we must recognize that even if we succeed in restricting abortion through legislation, those laws would almost certainly be litigated.  If we lose the court, our fight becomes infinitely more difficult.
  2. Working with Congress – If Republicans are able to gain control of the Senate (this looks to be about a 50/50 proposition right now), we have the opportunity for pro-life legislation in various forms – either directly or indirectly (such as restricting funds to Planned Parenthood).   An Obama Presidency would completely negate a Republican congress in terms of legislative advances on this front.
  3. Political Appointees, Executive Orders, etc. – Abortion policy can be impacted on a number of levels through appointments such as the Attorney General, Secretary of Health and Human Services, etc.  These actions tend to fly under the radar, but make a big difference.
  4. Reversing Obamacare – Obamacare has further entrenched the abortion culture by forcing insurance coverage of abortion, and making employers pay for this coverage.  Romney has promised to repeal Obamacare.  This will be difficult, but it would be near impossible by the next election cycle.  We must reverse Obamacare now before it becomes further entrenched.

Will the scourge of abortion be eradicated in the next 4 years with a Romney Administration?  Very likely not, but rather than see Obama further advance the culture of death, we could actually move the fight back in the right direction.

Beyond 4 years: The Path to Eliminating Abortion

The crux of the issue is simply this: Politics is the art of the possible – both in policy and in candidates.  We are not electing a dictator who can fix or ruin everything in their first week in office.  This is a good thing.

Understanding then that God has providentially placed us in a democratic system where change is, by design, excruciatingly slow, we should do what we can within the system where God has placed us.  We certainly want to see abortion eradicated, but if we settle ONLY for a complete ban on all abortions we will never arrive there.  This logic that applies to policy would certainly apply to candidates as well.

I admit it’s often frustrating to accept only a partial victory.  I realize progress is slow when we fight tooth and nail just for a minor victory.  But is this the right course?  Consider the following:

  1. Policy in the United States will only change legislatively at roughly at the same speed as public opinion – this means that we either wait for public opinion to come all the way around, or we take ground every time we have a chance.  (The exception to this is when there are power grabs by the court, such as Roe v. Wade.)  The most important task right now is to persuade other Americans that abortion is in fact, a great evil which must be stopped.  Apart from this we will lose the war.  (Btw, a great website in this regard is www.abort73.com.)
  2. Laws are instructive in morality – Over time, laws tend to inform the moral compass of the citizenry.  Consider slavery: after being outlawed for 150 years it would be virtually impossible to find someone today who would defend slavery on moral grounds.  We saw a similar impact when segregation was outlawed.  While you need some level of public support initially to effect change (see point 1 above), the fastest change in opinion can actually follow a change in the law.  In terms of abortion, this means taking even small victories, because every time we can further restrict abortion it has a teaching effect.  For example, by outlawing partial birth abortion it instructs the public consciousness and paves the way for further progress in the future.
  3. Our historical example in the abolition of slavery – Perhaps the best parallel to the current abortion debate is the effort to eradicate slavery 150-200 years ago.  Both are sins against humanity which have become deeply ingrained in our culture.  Both have always had a significant contingent of people who refuse to support the status quo.  Both saw decades of back and forth politically as the two sides vied for public opinion and small political victories.
    Simply reviewing a timeline of the abolition process makes this point abundantly clear.  A small victory here, another there… slowly changing the course of history.  Long before the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, or even the British Slave Abolition Act in 1843, the abolitionist movement fought many battles and incrementally won one small battle after another.  Of course, they lost some too.  But in the end, after almost a century of constant struggle, institutionalized slavery was gradually eliminated across much of the globe.
    I firmly believe, that just as with slavery, we will eventually see abortion outlawed in the United States.  I realize my optimism may not be shared by many, but I believe that by virtue of current technology, the diligent efforts of pro-life citizens, and the grace of God we will see this scourge reversed.

Policy vs. Principle

This ties into the points already discussed, but I want to mention it on its own for emphasis.  Simply put, while we should never compromise our principles, that doesn’t mean we don’t compromise on policy.  Principles don’t change.  Policy is a matter of applying those principles to the greatest extent possible – but policies will never be a perfect reflection of our principles.

Al Mohler made this point quite well in The Briefing, his daily podcast, on Friday.  The relevant portion starts around the 13 minute mark.

The Decision

So should a Christian vote for a candidate that is only pro-life in 99% of cases?  (When the alternative is a candidate who believes abortion should be completely unrestricted.)

Are you willing to tell the 99% of aborted children that they must continue to die until we can save the last 1%?  If your home was on fire, would you hesitate to save 4 of your children because you cannot save the 5th?

Will your ideological purity prevent you from taking policy victories that are within reach?

I hope not.

I invite you to join me in casting a pro-life vote for Mitt Romney.

– Jeremy

P.S. Still to come… Why not just vote for a minor party candidate?

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