I am a Christian, formerly a Never Trump Republican, now a left-leaning moderate. I plan to vote for Democrats in 2020, particularly for the presidency. This shift has been driven largely by the moral conviction that the Republican party has either been revealed to be or turned into something almost irredeemably divorced from what is right and consistent with the teachings of Jesus.
On most issues — immigration, diplomacy, criminal justice, the environment, drug laws, gun control, gay rights, respect for the truth, social welfare and even some economic policy — I find myself agreeing with Democrats more often than not, usually for ethical reasons. But on one issue in particular, the party is leaving me further and further behind, and that’s abortion.
Now, although I consider myself fairly pro-life, I’m actually not a strong advocate for a total ban on abortion. I recognize that the issue is gray enough early in pregnancy that reasonable people can disagree on the ethics of it, and therefore I accept that a democratic government should leave this up to the individual. But I also think it’s obvious that if we agree that killing newborns is wrong, then killing one just a week or a month before it’s born is not that different, and should be taken very seriously as an ethical matter. The difference is a matter of degrees, true, but if IVF (which involves the death of many human embryos) is not particularly ethically concerning while killing a child moments after birth is, then surely our discussions and policies on this issue should respect and reflect this nuance.
Most Americans seem to appreciate this. While polling generally shows a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most cases, when the question is framed in terms of trimesters, it becomes clear that most respondents are probably interpreting that earlier question as referring to the reasons for getting an abortion, and do in fact favor strong restrictions later in pregnancy. This view is consistent with most European laws which generally disallow late-term abortions, and seems to be supported by the US Supreme Court. Despite this, when Democrats are asked whether they support any restrictions on abortion, they usually fail to give even one, leaving me to conclude that they would have it be legal for any reason, even in the third trimester. I find that to be very troubling.
Democrats also tend to be incorrect and alienating in their framing of the debate. By acting as though this issue is settled and that basically any restrictions on abortion are a patriarchal effort to control women’s bodies (not the only body involved!), they mischaracterize both the arguments and motives of most pro-lifers. There are undoubtedly politicians who claim to be pro-life for disingenuous reasons, but in my experience the vast majority of those who take this issue seriously are in fact genuinely concerned about the child whose life hangs in the balance. And many also recognize the importance of supporting both mother and child after birth, too (my small Lutheran church operates a free day care for young parents in our community so they can stay in school). We may disagree about when and to what extent an unborn child is worthy of protection, but the more Democrats fight a straw man, the more they repel even moderates like me.
My intent is not to suggest exactly what the Democratic platform on abortion should be, but simply to point out that a rational debate on this topic must recognize the ethical concerns inherent in a procedure that ends a human life, even if it’s merely a “potential person.” There was a time when Democrats wanted abortion to be safe, legal and rare, but the current crop of presidential candidates usually omit that last point. If this is due to fear that betraying a hint of moderation on this issue will get them crucified on Twitter by pro-abortion activists, then that merely speaks to the level of undue influence that interest group holds over the party. But what might seem to be the lower-risk strategy in the primary is likely to be a significant liability in the general election. This refusal to even respect the pro-life side, let alone take a position more consistent with popular opinion, risks dampening turnout from socially conservative Hispanics and makes it easier for Christians to dismiss their claims of moral superiority on other issues. At a time when Texas is on the verge of becoming purple, this seems a strategy with no upside, moral or political.
A more moderate stance on this issue which emphasizes bipartisan policies that reduce demand for abortion, rather than pushing to expand availability beyond what most even want, would go a long way to alleviating my concerns and I expect those of many others who lean pro-life but are disgusted by the Republican party. The Democratic party’s extreme posture on this issue goes against their principles of justice for the vulnerable and respect for rational debate, and threatens their political viability at a time when America and the world desperately need them.