Voting for Obama, Part 5: What About Abortion?

For some Christians, only one issue matters in this election. And for reasons that I will articulate shortly, I am glad that their voice is being heard. I respect their decision.

I chose to vote for Obama for the reasons I’ve given in my previous posts on this subject (linked below). However, because I know many of you are curious about – if not even disturbed by – my choice because of Obama’s position on this issue, I feel like I should speak it directly.

I realize that Obama is not a “pro-life” candidate. He has stated very clearly that he favors abortion rights, as set out in Roe v Wade. Planned Parenthood considers him to be one of their best allies. There is no question as to where he stands.

Furthermore, I agree with Christians who find the act of abortion to be immoral, at least under normal circumstances. (I do not speak here of situations where the health of the mother, for example, is in danger or where there is no ultimate hope for a viable fetus). I believe that human beings are made in the image of God (we are “eikons”). I’m not sure we can really say when “human” life begins, but the development of the fetus within the womb is the process by which eikons are created, and – if I risk being wrong one way or the other – I prefer to “err” on the side of preserving the sacred image of God-in-people.

Having said that, I also have great sympathy for the women who feel like abortion is their only way out of a very difficult situation. Statistically speaking, they are typically poor minorities, most of whom characterize themselves as Christian. For the most part, the very difficult decision to have an abortion is made because of financial and personal concerns that relate to the mother’s ability to care for the child.

What, then, can government do to curb abortions? Two potential solutions seem fairly obvious: (1) try to force people who want to have abortions to stop having them and/or (2) try to improve the conditions that cause people to have abortions.

We’ll come back to (2) later. For now…lets focus on (1). How can the government force people who want to have abortions to stop having them?

Because of Roe v Wade, which recognizes a woman’s constitutional right against governmental interference with her reproductive decisions, and which refuses to recognize “personhood” for a fetus, there are only two paths to accomplishing option (1): (a) we can press for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, or (b) we attempt to identify and appoint Supreme Court justices that would overturn Roe v Wade.

You can forget about (a) immediately. Though there is some indication – from past interviews – that he might support it, McCain isn’t even talking about it in his campaign, nor does it seem even remotely plausible that the conservative minority in congress and/or the states could muster the political force necessary to pass this initiative.

So…what about (b), overturning Roe v Wade? McCain says that he will do this. However, the reality is, it is virtually impossible that he will get this done. Here’s why:

1. Setting aside the precarious ethics of appointing a justice to the most powerful court in the world based on his/her commitment to a single issue, its not nearly as easy as you would think to identify judges who will overturn Roe. Just ask the advisors for Reagan and Bush I. They helped appoint Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, and David Souter. All three of them decided to uphold Roe in Planned Parenthood v Casey, a landmark 1992 case.

2. The nominee would then have to survive the Senate approval process. Since we are looking at Democratic majority in the Senate, and the potential for a supermajority (effectively giving Democrats full control over the Senate), it is unlikely that an obvious pro-life judicial candidate will survive the appointment process.

3. Even then, the best that could happen is that – upon overturning Roe – the issue would be returned to the states. Many states would continue to allow reproductive rights, and the reduction in abortions will probably be minimal. Pro-choice organizations will quickly rally to make it possible for women who want abortions to get to the places where they are available.

Furthermore, even if all 50 states banned abortions, it will not prevent all women from having abortions. As we learned from prohibition – and as we continue to learn from the bans of various controlled substances – you can never completely eliminate the availability of goods and services that are in high demand.

In short, I have concluded that there is no point in voting for McCain based on his claim that he will attempt to overturn Roe because he will never get it done.

But…we have only talked about one “route” to reducing abortions so far. Overturning Roe is not the last hope for those who are concerned about the unborn. Option (2), taking action to reduce the circumstances that give rise to abortion, is still on the table.

By providing adequate education, health care, and support for women in poverty – and by assuring them that those resources would also be available for their children, we can discourage abortions by taking on the conditions that lead to them. These are simple issues of public policy that can be readily implemented on a bi-partisan basis.

Indeed, I believe that a staunch anti-abortion position requires equally staunch support for policies that care for women and children in poverty. If one is going to be an advocate for an unborn child, one should have no less commitment to making sure that the child is adequately cared for once it is outside of the womb. Without an adequate proposal to deal with millions of children who would be born into poverty in the wake of a ban on abortion, the argument against abortion carries no moral weight.

The good news here is that both candidates have publicly stated that they are ready to implement policies that will improve the conditions that lead to abortions. As such, the issue of abortion doesn’t factor into my vote. Other issues, many of which also involve the sacredness of humans-as-eikons – whether it is that of an Iraqi child who is threatened by US bombing raids, a prisoner of war who is being tortured, or a starving child in Africa – factor much more significantly into my vote.

Having said all of that, I am glad that some of you are willing to vote solely based on this one issue. By doing so, and by speaking out about your motivations, you are effectively helping to keep this important issue in the forefront of the collective consciousness of our nation.

I hope that you, too, will respect my decision. Like you, I am doing my best to translate my faith into a vote, and – in so doing – to let my voice be heard on a number of other important issues. To borrow from the Apostle Paul, for those of us who are fully convinced that a vote for McCain is preferable, let them do so for the Lord. For those who regard  Obama as preferable, let them do the same.

Up next: Why the outcome doesn’t matter that much to me

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

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8 Responses to Voting for Obama, Part 5: What About Abortion?

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Wow. Thank you, Matt, for articulating so well in this series. I have never read this blog before, but my sister, who is an undecided voter still today, referred me. She is a friend of yours. I have been an Obama supporter from the beginning, but I could perhaps never have verbalized my rationale and thinking as you have done. My husband (also for Obama) and I have been bombarded by email and Facebook comments and baits for us to try to convince us that abortion is THE ONE issue and that to vote for Obama is totally inconsistent with following Jesus. I appreciate how well you have thought through that discussion, and I hope you don’t mind that I may refer people to this post to further explain my decision in this election.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Okay, I’d actually like to post this series on my Facebook profile. Do you mind if I do that? I am Amy Boone’s sister; she said I could mention that. 🙂

  3. eddy says:

    So basically, instead of putting up “Burn Bans”, you’re voting to remove/reduce the things that spark fires?

  4. Rico says:

    Have you considered that part of your argument on the abortion issue is that you get a pass on abortion because others are willing to take this issue into account in how they vote? You say as much in the last 2 paragraphs.

    And are you as concerned about the Afghan or Pakistani child that is threatened by US bombing raids? Raising the spector of the “Iraqi” child is easy to do to make a political point. Apparently Obama, who is advocating for a “surge” in Afghanistan, is not as concerned about that child as he apparently is about the Iraqi.

    And who would address the starving child in Africa more effectively? I guess you think Obaba? Have you read any of the comments that Bono has made regarding Bush’s policies, and their impact, on the live of Africans over the last several years? You might be surprised.

  5. Matt says:

    Welcome to Elizabeth, eddy and Rico. I appreciate your comments.

    eddy – To answer your question: basically, yes. To borrow your analogy, I don’t think a burn ban is politically feasible, so it is much better to invest time and money in reducing the potential to spark fires.

    Rico – I don’t think I have a “pass” on abortion any more than I think McCain voters get a “pass” on responsible health care policies. Rather, I view a Presidential election as a national referendum on a issues that are important to us. By openly voicing the issues that are motivating us to vote for particular candidates, Christians can help to steer that discussion in appropriate directions, even if we are not voting for the same candidates.

    As to the bombing raids, I didn’t intend to single out Iraqi children as being more important than those in Afghanistan, Packistan, Africa, or New York for that matter. It was only an example. Also, I don’t deny that there are strengths and weaknesses in the Bush administration’s approach to foreign policy, just as there will be in a McCain and/or Obama administration. Bush, for example, has done some good things to raise awareness of starvation in Africa.

    It is my judgment, however, that Obama is more likely to be sensitive to the plight of the poor and powerless, and that he will be a more responsible wielder of American military power. I could be wrong, but his message seems to be more closely focused on those issues.

  6. curtis klope says:

    good stuff, Matt. as usual.

  7. Jeremy says:

    Really good, Matt.

    I voted third-party, but I am proud that Obama won the election. I think a lot of people get tunnel vision when it comes to elections. So many become extremists and they tend to agree with EVERYTHING their favorite candidate says.

    I’m sorry, but I’m not THAT shallow, and I would hope the rest of the country isn’t either.

    I come from a very conservative area in Ohio. Most of the people in my community are Catholic (including myself). There are many people I know who are scared of Obama. Some actually think he’s the anti-Christ. Some think he’s a terrorist just because “Hussein” is his middle name. I can’t get over how ridiculous that is. But seriously, these people are so out of touch with the times that that’s how they are conditioned to think. After working their blue collar jobs all day, they come home and turn on the news and what do they see? Colored people breaking into gas stations and bad re-runs of COPS. The mainstream media is pretty much their only glimpse of what’s going on in the rest of the world… and the MSM just isn’t legit enough to have an unbiased outlook on what’s going on these days.

    No ONE president is going to go into office and make this country perfect. If he does, it will only be perfect for a few people. Everyone has a different opinion of what’s good and what’s not. Hardly anyone knew about the third-party candidates, but that’s mostly because the media really runs the election and in order to actually be seen or heard as a third-party candidate, you’d have to have loads of money to spend on propaganda ads.

    Okay, now I’m just rambling, and this blog is several weeks old. I just really want to say, “props to you!”

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