Abortion, Moral Balancing, and the Alabama Special Election

Some of us struggle to understand how an electorate that professes Christian values can continue to support Roy Moore, a man who has been credibly accused of sexually preying on and molesting underage girls. Part of the answer, of course, is that Republicans have been so effective in maligning the credibility of the mainstream media that even this type of serious, well-researched accusation is undermined. But there’s another factor at play- Alabama voters are engaging in their own form of moral balancing.

People don’t care to admit it in our absolutist times, but most difficult choices in life, in law, or in politics, involve a form of moral balancing. If there is a clear right interest to be protected, the choice is easy. But in most cases, there are competing interests at stake, and we must make difficult choices about which interest or value is more important.

I would imagine that many Alabama voters are making the choice that their pro life beliefs, and how Roy Moore will vote to promote those beliefs, is more important than the evil acts he has committed in his personal life. I can’t describe how strongly I disagree with this choice, but it must be the choice many are making. The same is true of Donald Trump before Moore. A blatantly irreligious, immoral man like Trump became the hero of evangelicals, and he has rewarded their faith by adding a far right winger to the Supreme Court and many other ultra conservatives to the federal judiciary. The moral calculus they made was that these “goods” in their estimation outweighed awarding leadership of our nation to the moral rot of a man who delivered them. Again, I disagree with that choice with every fiber of my being, but there’s denying that was the choice for some.

But that brings me to our debate on abortion. This issue hasn’t confounded our country for half a century because it’s easy. Millions believe abortion takes a human life. Millions of others believe that our primary consideration must be the right to autonomy of women to do what they want with their own bodies.

Two competing values have met for a long time in a clash that will never be fully resolved. Ultimately, the question of when and how a human life goes from potentiality to actuality seems impossible to answer. Moreover, there comes a moment when the fetus acquires its own individual rights- for some that moment is conception, for others birth, and for many others it’s some moment in between. Unless you believe that women have no autonomy over their bodies or that the cycle of life begins at birth, your position on abortion reflects a moral balancing of sorts.

Perhaps in the short term, though, the folks in Alabama who might accuse pro choice individuals of murder might take a step back and look at their own moral balancing on the issue of Roy Moore. Reaching an informed position on a complicated moral question is hard work. Even if it’s clear to you that one position is correct, you perhaps owe it to the other side to respect the honesty of their intentions and the sincerity of their beliefs. We might find ourselves a much less polarized nation if we focused on the ways we could promote the values we share on these issues rather than the extremes that divide us. And we might just find that people of good intention on both sides could work together and find a common enemy who benefits greatly from our continued division.