So Long Roe

Editors Note: Having passed along to me some kind of disease my good friend D.W. Syme has made a contribution to this blog which I am delighted to publish.

It is possible that one of the greatest blows for justice since the civil rights era is about to be struck. We know this thanks to someone who leaked Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion representing a vote which would undo the legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade and return the power to regulate abortions back to the states. Yet, many from the crowd of what we may call “Micah 6:8 Christians” seem to have suddenly lost their zeal to do justice. They posted black squares to protest police violence. Many of them marched, others placed BLM signs in their windows and yards. They insisted that Christians must loudly affirm that black lives matter, and in that specific language, regardless of how one felt about the official organization. But today, with the lives of the unborn at stake, the best they can offer is hand wringing over how this will affect victims rape and incest (factors which are only relevant in an estimated 1.5% of abortions), anxieties over whether expectant mothers will have the resources they need (in a time and place where more social programs are available to those in poverty than possibly in any other time in history), and Jeremiads about  our loss of witness to the watching world (we wouldn’t want them to think we actually had convictions). So what gives? Why are they so eager to go to the mattresses over black lives and the lives of mothers, but the unborn must wait at the back of the bus?

Hear me when I say this, I do not believe that these are people want abortion to continue. Nor do I think they are secret theological liberals intent on pulling the church leftward through underhanded means. I don’t want to impute nefarious motives to them. I think they are well intentioned but inconsistent, and I’d like to press them to be consistent. A secular liberal who believes that a baby in utero is only a clump of cells, even a very important clump cells but still less than human, can consistently tolerate abortion (though I have a whole host of other questions for them). But you, Christians, who say that you believe that life begins at conception, ought to have nothing to do with it. So I am writing to you as people who actually do care about ending abortion, actually do care about justice and actually are my brothers and sisters in Christ. If I’m wrong, that will be revealed in time. God does not see the same way people see; the Lord looks at the heart. But I am not God. Therefore, I have to take my spiritual siblings at their word and deal with what they’re actually saying. 

So, what are they actually saying? For years we have been told that voting left is an acceptable pro-life strategy even as the Democratic party has only hardened its pro-abortion stance over the years. The first argument usually boils down to this: social safety nets will reduce abortions. Our friends produce numbers of abortions under Democratic presidents versus the number under Republican presidents to prove their case. Secondly, they tell us that voting for Republicans is futile because Republicans do no more to end abortion than Democrats. Thirdly, they tell us that the Republican party is not truly pro-life because it is full of capital punishment fans, gun nuts and war hawks. Let me take a stab at all three. 

The first argument belies the big, underlying problem. They have bought into a lie. The lie. The great pro-choice lie. That is, that a human life inside the womb has some categorical difference, however slight, which separates it from a life outside the womb. I said that I did not believe my friends to be nefarious. That’s true. I don’t think they revel in the death of the unborn, they just don’t seem to mourn the loss of life in the womb quite the same way they do other human lives. Well, this argument that “such and such policy will reduce abortions” reveals the source of their inconsistency. They no longer actually believe that human life begins at conception. They may say they do, but they would not speak the way they do if they really still believed it. As soon as you employ this type of utilitarian calculous, they’ve got you. The pro-choice side has won you over whether you know it or not. Because no Christian would dare speak of human lives (I mean real, true, actual humans, with all the God given rights which that entails) as a numbers game. If an unborn child is a human being, then abortion is a human rights violation. And when faced with any other gross human rights violation, we would not seek to reduce it, we would oppose it to our last breath. 

For instance, we would not accept such an argument in regard to slavery. We would not say “well, I will vote for this pro-slavery candidate because he has promised reforms for fairer slave treatment.” We would not accept these arguments in regard to the holocaust, either. We would not say, “yes it is unfortunate that the Jews have been sent to the ghettos, but just look what this Hitler fellow has done to eliminate poverty among the Germans!” There were such appeasers during that time, but we do not look kindly on them now. We know that it is not right to weigh the lives of some against the lives of others, but that we must fight for all lives. We know that it is not right to compromise with an institution like slavery, but that it must be eradicated. Why then, would we weigh the liberty of mothers against the lives of the unborn? Why would we vote for politicians who actively seek to establish abortion as an immutable institution in this country, just because they also promise more social safety nets? The answer is blindingly clear. For those who make such arguments, somewhere along line, they bought into the idea that an unborn life is worth just a little bit less than one on the other side of the birth canal (perhaps somewhere around three-fifths).

Okay and how about the second argument? Do Republicans actually do anything about abortion? It seems almost silly ask this question now, on this historic day. But it has been asked so many times before that it does need addressing. The answer is yes. Red states across the country have trigger laws in place which will ban abortions at the earliest possible point, they have passed heartbeat bills, they have past licensing restrictions and so many more small, legislative victories which we are seeing culminate now. This is the result of a slow process of chipping away at this evil institution persistently for fifty years. Oh, and remember that argument about which president is in power and what the abortion rates are at that time? Well, that is what we call correlation. Which, famously, does not equal causation. If you look a little more closely you will find that the efforts of conservative activists and law makers are one of the main factors behind decreases in abortion rates. Even staunch never-Trumper and Christian Nationalist watch dog David French admits this:

“Decades of patient pro-life activism (protected by many of the court precedents referred to above) have resulted in hundreds of pro-life laws in states across the nation—including 288 laws passed between 2011 and 2015 alone—and are drivers in the extraordinary drop in the American abortion rate. The abortion rate is now lower than it was before Roe was decided, when abortion was actually illegal in multiple American jurisdictions.”

So yes, Republicans actually have been doing something about abortion. Specifically, the sort of Republicans that the David French’s of the world do not approve of. Now, if you are fed up with RINOs doing nothing, then you have a point. I certainly think the criticism is fair in the case of Susan Collins, say, who is currently urging congress to chuck out the filibuster in order to enshrine abortion as legal institution across land in perpetuity. Yeah, level that criticism at her all you want. But you can’t say it of most Republicans.

                  Okay so what about that third and final argument? Aren’t Republicans creating a culture of death through guns and war and all that? Don’t they “rally round the family with a pocket full of shells” as Rage Against the Machine once told us? Well, you’re back to doing utilitarian calculous again. Which has never been the ethical framework of Christians seeking justice. That wasn’t what drove Martin Luther King Jr. to write his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, for instance. No, he believed that the rights of everyone, everywhere, all the time ought to be protected because they were given by God. But okay, just for fun, if you want to do some utilitarian calculous let’s go ahead and actually do it. Because I’ve done the math, and you’re not going to like it. Disclaimer: I am about to steel-man this case as best as I possibly can. That means I’m being as generous as possible with these numbers. I want to give the other side as much concession as I possibly can, so that no one can accuse me of putting a thumb on the scale.

Capital Punishment – Yes I know babies are innocent and violent criminals are not, but let’s play along for the sake of argument. Also for the sake of argument, let’s say that all capital punishment cases are the fault of Republicans. That’s 46 people a year.

War – This would be the best argument for an abortion comparison as it is an ongoing issue which is guaranteed to end life and is often justified by society and politicians in similar ways to abortion. However, stretching back to Vietnam (thanks LBJ), foreign wars have been a broadly bi-partisan effort. So it’s hard to see a vote for the left as a clear cut anti-war vote. The biggest conflicts of the last 20 years certainly had bi-partisan support. Despite how badly Dems like Clinton or Biden may wish to distance themselves from their initial votes now. And there have been plenty of smaller conflicts to go around too. Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya etc. So, that argument that abortion happens under both republican administrations and democratic administrations certainly applies to war as well. But let’s just assume for the moment that the Democrats were a solidly anti-war party and could be reliably counted on to avoid foreign wars. In that case, what’s the body count we’re laying at the feet of the GOP? Vietnam – 58k, Gulf War – 294, Afghanistan – 2,216, Iraq – 4,497. Those are the big ones, and they total up to about 65k. But that’s just American deaths, you say, what about the other side? Okay, fine. Double it. Triple it. Quadruple it. That’s still just over a quarter million (260,028) in 70 years of U.S. conflicts. Legal abortion on the other hand has cleared as many as 1.4 million human lives in a single year in the U.S. and hasn’t gone lower than 600k a year since 1973. And how many times does abortion save lives? Very rarely. How many lives are saved due to U.S. intervention? Just ask the millions of Vietnamese starved by their own government in the years after the U.S. pulled out of that conflict. Ask the millions of South Koreans who keep fresh flowers on the graves of American service men to this day because they are grateful not to be like those dead Vietnamese. I’m a libertarian who opposes wars of intervention as much as anyone, but the question of whether they sometimes promote life or only lead to death is far from settled.

Gun Deaths – Going all the way back to 1968, a full five years before Roe, the total number of gun deaths in this country has been 1,624,669. Keep in mind that, sadly, half or more of these deaths are usually suicides. But let’s say that all of these deaths are also the fault of the GOP. 

Healthcare – Again, not a great comparison as not every case of lacking health care results in death, and neither party is actively anti-health care. But again, let’s assume that the case against Republicans is proven and we can safely blame them for the short comings of the American health care system (one of the four most regulated markets in the country). That’s 26,000 deaths a year due to lack of health care. A far cry from 600,000 babies gone due to abortion.

Immigration – Also not a great comparison as every case of immigration does not result in death, nor does every case of denied immigration result in death. And, again, neither party is actively anti-immigration. Though, here, I concede that the current Republican party could much more easily be construed as the anti-immigration party than as the pro-war, pro-poverty or anti-health care party. But let’s set all that aside and again ask what is the tally of lives lost. Well, most of the deaths associated with immigration, tragically, happen along the journey and not at the destination. Hard to see how any administration is going to address that. Since 2004, 193 people have died in detention due to immigration though, can we count those? Okay. Let’s say those are all squarely the fault of Republicans too. Still a drop in the bucket compared to abortion. 

Climate Change – This one is even harder to tabulate than immigration but let’s just look at numbers of deaths due to hurricanes, flooding and fires. Fires, less than 50 a year related to forest fires. The worst recent hurricane, Maria, by the most extreme calculations claimed 8.5k lives. But a more common estimate of U.S. lives lost due to hurricanes is less than 100. Flooding, about 86 a year. So, let’s assume that all of these deaths are due to disasters which are the result of climate change and that Democratic efforts would’ve stemmed the tide of climate change enough to prevent all these deaths if not for Republican’s gumming up the works. That’s about 236 deaths per year.

Pandemic Response – Ah yes, I hear you saying. But what about the Republicans who refused to wear a mask or get vaccinated? That’s not very pro-life, you say. Well, both Democrats and Republicans responded to the pandemic, and some of the worst handling of the pandemic was carried out by a Democratic governor who made a grave error in sending the sick to nursing homes. But alright, let’s assume that a Democratic administration would’ve had a perfect record and all 933k deaths and counting are the fault of Republicans.

Okay, now let’s take all that death and total it up. That’s 2,844,172 lives lost since 1973 (the year of the Roe v. Wade decision) due to capital punishment, war, lack of healthcare, immigration, climate change, and pandemics. That averages out to only 59,253.6 deaths per year. And of course, that’s with using some rather specious numbers. The last year that abortion was anywhere near that low was never. On the other hand, since 1973 it is estimated that over 62 million babies have been aborted. Abortions have been as high as 1.4 million in a single year, and not lower than 600,000 since 1973. And unlike capital punishment, war, gun deaths, healthcare, immigration, climate change, and pandemics, one party proudly supports this barbarism under the banner of women’s rights. I don’t think your “holistic approach” to pro-life is going as swimmingly as you’d like. So, you can add in all the pet policy positions you’d like to the pro-life movement, but ending abortion remains thepro-life battle of our time and the human rights battle of our time. May God have mercy on our souls for all that we did not do to end this thing sooner.

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