- Paul Stark
The case for voting pro-life
Should the issue of abortion affect—or even determine—how you vote?
A Gallup poll this year found that 47 percent of Americans say abortion is one of many important factors in their decision. About a quarter (24 percent) of Americans say it's a "threshold" issue—that they will only vote for candidates who share their view of abortion. Similarly, the Pew Research Center found that 40 percent of registered voters say abortion is "very important" to their vote in the 2020 presidential election.
These numbers are substantial—but they should be much higher. Here's why you should vote for pro-life candidates for public office. The argument consists of three steps.
The pro-life position is true
The first step is that the pro-life position on abortion is true. The reasoning in support of that position goes like this.
Human embryos and fetuses—the individuals killed through abortion—are living members of the species Homo sapiens. That's a fact established by the science of embryology. Each of us was once an embryo and a fetus, just as we were once infants, toddlers, and teenagers.
Moreover, all human beings have human rights. Unborn humans are younger and smaller than the rest of us, and they look different, and they can’t do all the things that we can do. But those differences don’t matter. After all, if characteristics like physical dependency or cognitive ability confer rights, then those of us who have more of those characteristics have greater rights than those who have less.
The truth is that human beings matter not because of what they can do or what they look like, but because of what they are. That's why all of us count—and count equally. And that's why killing unborn human beings is unjust.
Further, the law ought to safeguard basic human rights and, in particular, protect people from acts of unjust and lethal violence. No purpose of government is more foundational. That's why the law should protect unborn children from the unjust and lethal violence of abortion.
Defenders of abortion take issue with this conclusion in some different ways. They often appeal to pregnant women's right to bodily autonomy. That autonomy is important, but it must respect the bodies and rights of other human beings. No one thinks pregnant women should ingest substances that cause fetal deformities. And if harming unborn children is wrong, then so is intentionally attacking their bodies and killing them through abortion.
Others point to the difficult and often-unfair circumstances many pregnant women face. But no one thinks such circumstances (including, for example, poverty and spousal abandonment) would justify the destruction of newborns, or five-year-olds, or adolescents. And if unborn children matter like they do, then those circumstances don't justify killing them either. Instead, we can and should work to provide resources and ethical alternatives so that no woman feels like abortion is the only choice.
The pro-life position is that both unborn children and their mothers deserve support and protection—and that there's a better way than abortion.
Abortion isn't like other political issues
The second step in the argument is that if the pro-life position is true, then abortion is a uniquely important political issue.
Why is that? Abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being. Unlike natural causes of death like cancer and diabetes (which are, of course, tragic and deserving of our compassionate response), abortion is an injustice—a violation of fundamental rights.
Worse, unlike other acts of lethal injustice (as horrible as they are), abortion is legal for any reason. A whole class of human beings is excluded from society’s protection against deadly violence. They are dismembered, destroyed, and discarded at will. In some cases, the government subsidizes the violence, as if it were a public good.
Governments are supposed to defend the basic rights of their people—especially those who cannot protect or even speak for themselves. Abortion-on-demand turns that obligation upside down. It denies the most vulnerable and voiceless human beings the protection to which they are entitled as a matter of justice. Their human rights are trampled. The truth of human equality is repudiated. Our nation doesn't treat any other segment of humanity like that.
And even worse? The result of this exclusion is that unborn humans are killed on an industrial scale. According to the best estimate, abortion ends the lives of nearly 900,000 human beings each year in the United States. That makes it the leading cause of human death (exceeding both heart disease and cancer). Abortion represents a simply staggering loss of human life.
None of this means there aren't other important issues we ought to care about. But the gravity and scope of abortion make it unlike any other issue in American society today.
Elected officials can have an enormous impact
The final step in the case for voting pro-life is this: The candidates we elect to public office have a real effect on unborn children and pregnant women. Elected officials who are pro-life work to increase protection for them. Elected officials who are not pro-life work to thwart such protection and to expand the killing of abortion.
Consider how elected officials shape our laws and public policies. State lawmakers pass abortion-related legislation. Governors choose to sign it into law or veto it. Governors also appoint judges who may decide the fate of such laws. Members of Congress pass legislation at the federal level, and senators vote to confirm or reject nominees to the federal judiciary, which wields the power to uphold abortion laws or wipe them out.
These laws and policies influence the practice of abortion. A large body of peer-reviewed research shows that a range of standard pro-life laws—even very modest ones (the kind permitted under restrictions currently imposed by the judiciary)—reduce the incidence of abortion. Such laws empower women and expand protection for the unborn. Laws that expand or subsidize abortion, on the other hand, increase the number of unborn children who are killed.
There's a clear cause-and-effect chain here. The election of pro-life candidates leads to pro-life laws. And those laws support women and save lives from abortion. The election of candidates who favor abortion, by contrast, helps defeat or reverse such efforts.
Take the Hyde Amendment, a longstanding pro-life measure that prevents most federal funding of abortion. Estimates indicate that it has saved well over two million unborn lives. But abortion supporters in Congress—and presidential candidate Joe Biden—want it gone. If they win the White House and take control of the Senate, they could get their wish. And there's no serious doubt (among those on both sides of the abortion debate) that many more unborn children would be killed as a result.
What about the presidential race? Presidents affect abortion in numerous ways. They can implement some policies through executive action. Donald Trump, for example, implemented a policy to stop the U.S. funding of groups that perform or promote abortion overseas, and another measure to deny Title X taxpayer funds to places that perform or refer for abortion. Joe Biden promises that on his "first day in office" he would reverse those policies. Biden even says his Justice Department "will do everything in its power to stop" state pro-life laws, including parental involvement laws (which require notification before abortions are performed on minors) and abortion facility health and safety standards.
Presidents also sign or veto legislation. Trump says he would sign federal legislation to protect unborn children who can feel pain, for example, and says he would veto legislation undermining existing pro-life measures like the Hyde Amendment. Joe Biden wants to repeal Hyde and sign legislation "codifying" the abortion-on-demand policy of Roe v. Wade into federal statute.
But a president's most far-reaching impact comes through judicial nominations. The Supreme Court's Roe decision in 1973 unconstitutionally eliminated laws protecting unborn children nationwide. Since then, the courts have dictated which abortion-related measures the American people may enact and which they may not.
Donald Trump has appointed more than 200 judges who are considered likely to faithfully apply the Constitution. Joe Biden, by contrast, says he will nominate only judges who think the courts should nullify protections for unborn children and their mothers. And there's no reason to doubt him. Every current Supreme Court justice appointed by an abortion-supporting president has voted to strike down any and all abortion limits that have come before the Court.
What about the arguments of people who say pro-life voters should support pro-abortion candidates? Some of them suggest that abortion-supporting presidents have caused abortion rates to drop. That claim doesn’t take into account the impact of state pro-life laws and other factors, as well as such presidents' long-term detrimental impact (including on those abortion-affecting state laws) through judicial appointments. It's fair to say that abortion rates have dropped despite abortion-advocating presidents, not because of them.
Similarly, many argue that the policies of abortion-supporting candidates (such as particular health care or economic policies) reduce the number of abortions, while the legal limits supported by pro-life candidates do not. But these arguments ignore the demonstrable effects of many pro-life laws. They also dismiss the profound injustice of a legal system in which some members of the human family are considered "non-persons" who may be killed at the discretion of others. Nobody argues that we should legalize child abuse and just focus on economic policies that could (arguably) help alleviate the "root causes." Unborn children, like born children, deserve protection—and it's pro-life candidates who aim to give it to them.
Those who reject the pro-life view may wonder how it could matter so much when casting a ballot. But let's slightly adjust the scenario.
Imagine that two-year-old children are stripped of all legal rights and treated as expendable non-persons by the government. Imagine that "unwanted" two-year-olds—often "inconvenient," always expensive and highly dependent on their parents—are routinely killed at facilities all across the country constructed mainly for the purpose of their disposal.
Imagine, further, that many candidates for public office defend this state of affairs and think toddlers have no human rights deserving of our respect. In fact, these candidates say, justice requires that we expand "access" to the killing—and that taxpayers foot the bill. Moreover, the candidates vigorously demand that unelected judges (unconstitutionally) prohibit legislatures from ever providing two-year-olds with even the most minimal safeguards against lethal violence. The American people, these candidates tell us, must not get a say on this.
Would we vote for such candidates? Replace "two-year-olds" with "unborn children," and that description applies to most real-life candidates—from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on down the ticket—who wear the label "pro-choice" and earn endorsements from groups like Planned Parenthood.
Supporters of abortion typically believe, of course, that unborn humans are different from two-year-old humans. But the unborn aren't different in any way that is relevant to their possession of fundamental dignity and rights. And that's the point.
Unborn humans share in our common humanity. They have human rights and deserve the protection of society. Yet those rights are systematically violated in a catastrophic injustice unlike anything else in America today. And the candidates we elect to public office will work either to entrench and expand this unjust killing—or to make our nation more compassionate and inclusive.
That's why abortion is so important in the voting booth. That's why we should vote pro-life.