Both sides in American politics are currently trying hard to convince their base that this presidential election has a lot to do with abortion. However, the reality is that neither party, and neither presidential candidate, is really going to do anything about Roe vs. Wade.
To be clear, I believe that abortion is a very important moral issue. It is also an extremely personal, painful, and complex issue, in which there are never any easy answers or true winners, no matter which “side” one takes. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, I am pro-life.
I also come from a staunchly Republican family, at least until 2010, when I ran for Congress as a (pro-life) Democrat (I’ve written about this in an earlier column). My father is a lifelong Republican, as was his father, as was his father’s father. And, until the last couple elections, my pro-life position is why I tended to identify more with the Republican Party, whose official platform opposes abortion.
Over time, however, I’ve come to realize that, as important as this issue is, our options are not straightforward. In reality, the Republican elite hotly debate this issue behind the scenes. Even President George W. Bush, an evangelical who also included many evangelicals among his White House staff, made no attempt to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Both parties realize that any attempt to challenge Roe vs. Wade would meet overwhelming opposition, not only within American society as a whole, but also within the Republican Party.
So what are we left with?
First, pro-life and pro-choice candidates run in both parties. Those who consider this the single, most important issue in supporting a candidate can often find committed pro-life candidates in either party. At other times, we are left choosing between two candidates who are pro-choice. This may be our situation in the 2012 presidential election. President Obama has been consistently pro-choice, though there are reports that some of his policies may actually end up reducing abortions. Governor Romney claims he is mostly pro-life now, but he’s on record countless times as being pro-choice—such as while Governor of Massachusetts—and there have been very mixed messages about his true position on this issue today. It’s really hard to tell.
Secondly, being pro-life means more than verbally opposing Roe v Wade. We do well to learn from former Congressman Tony Hall from Ohio. When Tony Hall came to faith after taking office, he adopted a pro-life position. But he devoted himself not to some Quixotic quest to overturn Roe vs. Wade, but to working together with pro-choice colleagues on legislation to ensure that no one ever need resort to abortion for financial, social, or health reasons. For Tony, being pro-life actually meant more than checking the box on candidate surveys during election time; it meant finding common ground to take constructive steps forward for the common good. Neither party honestly intends to overturn Roe vs. Wade. But we can work together, pro-life and pro-choice, to support women in crisis and reduce the demand for, and number of, abortions.
Thirdly, we remember that being fully pro-life means caring about the whole of life, in all its fullness and diversity. The same Bible and the same Savior that call us to protect the unborn, call us also to care for the poor, the immigrant, the sick, the aged, others who are socially marginalized, and all of Creation. The same Bible and the same Savior also call us to seek justice, promote peace, condemn abusive financial practices, oppose the bribery of government officials (think special interest bankrolling of election campaigns), and to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
As Christians, no matter which candidates we each end up siding with in this election, I hope and pray we will strive to be consistently and comprehensively pro-life, supporting the good not only of the unborn, but also of the born: the unemployed, the impoverished, the immigrant, the uninsured, victims of disasters and wars, and more, while also being good stewards of our financial and natural resources. This may make it harder to chose who to vote for, but it’s time that we become better known for having a vision as big as God’s vision, and for voting on a more faithful range of issues than just one or two.