This piece is not designed to convince you. It is simply here to explain myself and those who agree with me (probably more people than you think you know). If anyone, friend, acquaintance or stranger, would like to challenge any of these points or try to refute me, I welcome that but I probably won’t be responding in the comments section or on social media. At the end of the piece I’ll provide my email.
(Relatedly: I have never known a single person to change their mind due to a social media argument. I have known a few people change their mind slowly on an issue like this due to conversation though. Social media posting; whether it’s minions on Facebook, trendy, pastel Instagram graphics, or tweets, is largely about making ourselves feel good rather than an actual discourse generating any sort of change whatsoever. But anyways.)
But before I get into what I think: let’s talk about you. If you are reading this, we are probably friends or maybe acquaintances. Maybe we talk a lot and have shared a lot of our lives, maybe we knew each other in passing some years ago and remain connected on social media somehow.
I want you to know I do not feel ill will or any sort of malice towards you if you feel that abortion should remain legal. I naturally disagree with you and given the nature of this issue, it’s a strong one. However I do know two things;
1) People of good will and intelligence can and do come to different views on subjects after much study and thought. Someone coming a different view in an attempt to pursue some form of The Good doesn’t surprise me. In fact I would bet money on most of my friends disagreeing with me very thoroughly. So if you are someone who has spent a lot of time on this subject and you disagree with everything I am about to write, please know I respect you entirely, even if I disagree with you.
2) Maybe you’re not someone who does think about this a lot. After all that would make you the normal one, not me. It’s usually estimated that roughly 1/3rd of Americans follow domestic, national politics regularly, about 1/4th to 1/5th of Americans follow local politics and a little less than 1/10th of Americans follow international politics. In that piece I just cited above, most Americans have no strong ideological identity at all. All of us, (including people who think point 1 was addressed to them) are also influenced by social forces outside of our control. Why should I disrespect you or think less of you because you hold a different view that you came to in a sphere of your life (politics) that you don’t really care too much about?
All of this is to say, if you feel an emotional, visceral response to what I am about to write, I don’t begrudge that. But I am asking you to extend that same courtesy and grace to myself and those who feel similarly.
One last thing: I fully understand this is an issue almost every person feels strongly about. Even if they don’t have fully formed opinions (depending on the polling maybe the plurality of Americans) on the subject, they can think of someone they know who the issues of life, death, infant mortality, disability, women’s autonomy, mistreatment at the hands of men, sexual assault & etc… have affected. Oftentimes it is them. The tragic thing about politics is that this becomes inevitable if we discuss any issue of importance. I am of the firm opinion that there are no neat fix-all solutions but rather trade offs. By that I mean almost always even the most correct, righteous, opinion and policy inevitably entails that there is someone in anguish on the other side. So please know that I (and most other pro lifers) did not come to these views because we want to provoke anger or distress, but because we believe this to be the just stance on this difficult subject. Similarly if you are pro-life and reading this I would really ask you extend this same grace to your pro-choice friends and neighbors.
The Core of It
First I want to simply outline my core stance on the subject and my reasoning for it. The various associated arguments (“Don’t you know actually evangelicals were pro-choice?” “It’s just white men,” “X justice lied under oath” & etc…) feel like replacements for the actual core of the subject, which naturally makes many people feel very uncomfortable. I’ll respond to a few that I seem most commonly or are a bit more substantial only because I think dealing with them could help people think more about the core issue more but I’ll do so at the end.
I am pro-life and by that I mean I am against the practice of human abortion. More specifically, I would like to see this practice outlawed with the exception of saving the mother’s life (more on this later as you can imagine). I hold this conclusion for two reasons:
- I believe it is wrong, with very few exceptions, to kill people. Absent necessity (which I would define as the protection of human life, say defending against a murderer or defending your community against an invading force), I think it is morally, objectively wrong. I believe it is especially wrong to do so against their consent (naturally there is a related issue about euthanasia, which while important, I am not going to directly address, so I’ll limit the conversation to killing someone against their consent to keep things brief as possible).
Very few people would probably openly disagree with what I just wrote. Honestly if you do believe killing people is actually rather good, then there is probably very little I could do to say to you to convince you otherwise (and vice versa). This is quite easily my most unshakable political belief I hold. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was yours as well.
- The community of people (i.e those who point 1 would apply to, which I’ll refer to as “personhood”) should encompass human beings in utero. I consider them to be counted among those people who should not be killed without their consent. Why?
I believe that personhood should be defined as expansively, but objectively, as possible. There are a few reasons for that. I would like to start with the latter. I think making the criterion objective puts us on solid ground. It chains it to something concrete rather than basing personhood on something that could be reasonably disproved or disregarded later on down the line. It allows us to know exactly what a person is and thus who we are obligated to respect their rights. Basing it on something subjective makes our social obligations unstable and difficult to carry out.
But most importantly, insofar as it could be objectively defined, personhood should be expansive as possible. Purposefully drawing the line restrictively would logically exclude people that we would obviously today in the 21st century would consider people. The logic for drawing that line more restrictively has been often used in the past. The notion that personhood is based on whether one is “wanted,” “viable” or whether one impinges on another’s autonomy inevitably ends up creating a logic that ultimately privileges power. If one is lucky enough to be in the right demographic group (i.e wanted by the people who have power) or if one is lucky enough to be abled or developed in the “right” way, then congrats you’re a person! This isn’t a slippery slope, this is logic that is followed through repeatedly throughout history and in particular in the 20th century.
So my belief comes down to this; An individual, living member of the species homo sapiens, regardless of its development, is a person and thus should not be killed without their consent and society is obligated to protect this right. Ergo, legalized abortion is incompatible with this and society is obligated to end this practice.
I don’t believe in the above because I am religious (more on that in a second) or out of a desire to “control women” (more on that later as well) but because I believe this to be the most just stance possible.
One quick thing before I get to various objections. I am full cognizant that this belief is, on some level, highly radicalizing. There is a misconception that pro-lifers are placidly pro-status quo voters (there are in fact some -many even – but this would also apply to many pro-choice people), who want a radical shift in abortion policy but no other major changes to society. This does not apply to me and to many other pro-life Americans. One of the pieces of writing that shaped my view on abortion’s implications is from Frederica Matthews-Green, a feminist and Eastern Orthodox writer;
If you were in charge of a nature preserve and you noticed that the pregnant female mammals were trying to miscarry their pregnancies, eating poisonous plants or injuring themselves, what would you do? Would you think of it as a battle between the pregnant female and her unborn and find ways to help those pregnant animals miscarry? No, of course not. You would immediately think, “Something must be really wrong in this environment.” Something is creating intolerable stress, so much so that animals would rather destroy their own offspring than bring them into the world. You would strive to identify and correct whatever factors were causing this stress in the animals.
For me, fully realizing the weight of my stance made me realize how unjust and thoroughly inhospitable modern society is. It’s society where women are often pressured either by financial circumstances or men to abort a human being rather than care for it, it’s a society where the needs of mothers and children are subordinated to corporations, where pregnant prisoners are shackled and abused, where pregnant immigrants are subjected to heinous conditions unbefitting a civilized country, and where children can often go hungry. This is not a definitive list. For the pro-life person the practice of eliminating unwanted, less privileged children is the crowning abuse on top of an unbearable cacophony of injustice. Rather than solving for these abuses (as some pro-choice progressives hoped it would), the practice now aids and abets these (and other) injustices in some sort of intersectional monstrosity.
So when I, and many other people call themselves pro-life, rather than being uncaring, in reality we see this fight as inseparable from the wider cause to reform our society into a more just one.
No single post could every address every possible objection but I’d like to add some big ones I see routinely (I also may add to this section over time if any of you write to me)
What About the Autonomy of the Woman
This is probably the single most important objection I actually see. The rest often presume bad faith or don’t really answer the core of the issue. I’ll answer in a few ways;
- I would consider the stakes. I do think autonomy is good but I’m not convinced it is the highest good. Let’s compare for a second the stakes of the argument. If I’m wrong and abortion is outlawed (despite social media posts claiming otherwise, the Supreme Court did not outlaw abortion but return its regulation to the states and to Congress) then the autonomy of millions of women would be restricted which would be unjust in itself and create more injustices. If I’m right and abortion is legal (currently the status quo at the moment) then we’ve tolerated somewhere between 1.3 million and 887,000 innocent people being liquidated. While this alone doesn’t make bodily autonomy totally irrelevant, it does make me think we should be highly skeptical of making it the primary basis our ideas and our laws on the subject.
- Whose autonomy? Bodily autonomy being social good doesn’t really deal with the core of the pro-life belief: namely that human beings should be protected regardless of their stage of bodily development. If that belief is correct then it’s not simply one person’s autonomy that’s at stake here (which would be an easy issue to decide) but rather two or more people’s bodily autonomy at play. Resolving that question forces me to decide on behalf of the more permanent loss (namely that a loss of life vs a loss of autonomy is totally irreversible)
These two points won’t resolve everyone’s concerns 100% as there are a ton of complexities but here are a list of essays that also helped my thinking on this issue
Who Are You To Enforce Your Religion?
This is probably the secondly most common objection. Unlike bodily autonomy this is really easily dealt with. Who am I? Easy, I’m not forcing my religion. Please look to my section on my pro-life reasoning. Absolutely none of that requires a belief in Christianity (though I won’t pretend with you either, I am a Christian, specifically a fairly conservative Protestant and my particular church is canonically pro-life, but even if I were to lose my faith tomorrow, I would not lose my stance). This view isn’t that uncommon either as about 1 in 4 religiously unaffiliated Americans believe abortion should be illegal in most or all instances.
It is no doubt true that a lot, if not most, pro-life people in America are somewhat influenced by their faith. However it’s self destructive to suggest that, if one can trace a religious source for the ethics of a certain law, then it is is somehow an illegitimate stance. In fact most of the ethics that we would take for granted in the western world are themselves the byproduct of Christianity, which is different from saying one must be a Christian to be an ethical person. If you don’t want to take my word for it, feel free to consult historians or philosophers like Tom Holland (no, not that one), or Jürgen Habermas. If you want to suggest that the only laws that can be passed are those without any historical Christian ethical influence, you may find yourself living in a much darker, more violent world than you thought.
If you care so much about the poor and marginalized, why are you a Republican?
Well this is also an easy one, I’m not. I haven’t voted for a Republican for president since 2008, haven’t been a registered member of the Republican Party since 2015, and I haven’t voted for a Republican who won their election since 2010. If you’re really that interested in the political party I vote for, then please look up the American Solidarity Party, maybe even join us!
But it is true that most pro-life voters tend to vote for the GOP. But there’s probably a few reasons for this. Perhaps if the Democratic Party was more hospitable to pro-life voters, more of them would vote for it? More importantly it’s a mistake to assume most Republican voters align with the GOP elite’s platform on welfare. Not only do most GOP voters use social programs but, when asked specifics, most do not want to cut them. Lastly, while it is definitely true that a lot of pro-life voters may hold contradictory positions (itself a very American past time) that doesn’t actually make that stance wrong at all.
What About X Exception?
I’ll be honest with you, absent the exception of a mother’s life (in which case life for life is not a violation of my core belief), I have not entirely made up my mind yet. That being said, I find that these exceptions are often deployed to avoid the reality that most abortions have literally nothing to do with the most common exceptions cited at all. The explicitly pro-choice Guttmacher Institute found that these were the most common reasons cited by those who had an abortion:
You’re Just Trying to Control Women
Well I could assure you I’m not (in fact some of the most passionately pro life people that have shaped my own views on it are women, in particular my wife and my mother), but that won’t do will it?
This is gonna sound crazy but there is no meaningful gender gap on polling in regards to abortion. Again do not take my word for it but Vox of all places has a great article on this that cites a lot of data, including this helpful table
You Don’t Need to Outlaw It/Outlawing it Doesn’t Reduce Abortion
These common talking points can also be effective as it doesn’t have to address the core of the subject but dodges it. You could agree with my main point but then simply conclude abolition doesn’t work so why bother? However I’m not so sure of that.
In reality we’ve known for awhile now that state by state restrictions and regulations do reduce the overall abortion incidence rate, whether these be parental consent laws or informed consent laws. More recently in the wake of Texas’ new law, abortion incidents have dropped quite steeply. When expanded to the 18 states with more restricted access, the data suggests very strongly that the abortion rate does in fact decrease. Meanwhile there is a lot of data to suggest that the narrative that this rate is simply replaced with illegal abortions is not quite true.
Additionally, while support for women and children can play a role in the reduction of abortion rates, absent abolition, it is naive to think a wider social safety net is mutually inclusive to a functional abolition of abortion. In reality many countries with much more generous social safety nets, retain very high abortion rates.
You Don’t Really Care About Infants, Evangelicals Were Pro-Choice
Somehow this claim is extremely popular despite having two major weaknesses; it has zero relevance to whether abortion itself is ethical and it could not be more historically wrong.
For starters, who cares? Let’s suppose 20th century evangelicals were either disingenuous or malleable in their views on abortion. How would this address the core argument? How would this convince a Roman Catholic pro-life voter or an agnostic or mainline Protestant or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist pro-life voter? It wouldn’t. It’s not really an argument, it’s an accusation of bad faith to poison the well to avoid having to actually have the discussion.
But more importantly it is absolutely historically incorrect. I got a chance to address this in the National Review in my piece “The History of American Evangelicals’ Opposition to Abortion Is Long.” I use a lot of different sources for the piece but it relies a lot on Marvin Olasky’s history Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America. To put it bluntly, if you don’t think evangelical Protestants opposed abortion before 1973 (please let’s remember there’s more to “evangelicals” than the Southern Baptist Convention), then please answer me who passed the state laws that Roe invalidated in 1973? The answer is easy, evangelical Protestants. Why? Because they are heirs to a tradition stretching back through the colonial period, the English Reformation, the medieval church all the way to the earliest recorded traditions of the early Christian church. You can think your grandma who attends the Baptist church down the road is wrong or stupid but it is simply ahistorical to pretend her views are not in line with a very, very long stance held by most Christians for most of history. (By the way, this piece is sometimes paywalled, if you can’t read it, let me know and I will email a .pdf to you)
Abortion Lowers Crime
Genuinely bizarre that this opinion gets trotted out sometimes as it is, in effect, an argument for race based eugenics (though maybe that’s not quite coincidental). Ultimately those who are aborted are from poor households and primarily Black or Hispanic. Functionally this argument becomes, “By reducing the population of poor Black or Latino men, we’ve reduced the crime rate.” If you’re going to make this argument you should recognize it for what it is: racist.
Also it’s based on extremely shoddy research. This argument really got going when Freakanomics had an entire chapter on this possibility. Problem? It was simply untrue. By by “fixing that error [it] reduces the effect of abortion on arrests by about half…using passable population estimates based on data from the Census Bureau, and…the impact of abortion on arrest rates disappears entirely.”
So I don’t really have a grand conclusion. This is just more or less how I feel about the topic, how I tried to come by it, and how I try to grapple with the very weighty issues surrounding both sides of the debate. I hope if you do see this on social media do you try to reach the end here. If you did, thank you I appreciate it. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to email (or if you have my number, feel free to text or call). Hopefully by reading this you can understand how I and a lot of people you know, your family, friends, neighbors and fellow Americans feel on this subject.