There was a time in my life when I was a staunch supporter of any policitian who proclaimed him- or herself to be anti-abortion, because they were anti-abortion. I saw — and still see — legal abortion as an injustice on a par with legal slavery: an entire and vast segment of people are viewed, in the eyes of the law, as un-people. Given the moral weight of an issue like that, I reasoned, how could any other issue compare when I walked into the voting booth?
As the years went on, I realized there’s a reasonable answer to that question. In fact, there are at least two.
First, if politicians who proclaim themselves to be pro-life do so only around election time, and then once in office do very little to even try to improve the legal status of the unborn or regulate access to abortion, are they really pro-life anyway? Or am I just a schmuck who falls for a cynical strategy to get pro-lifers’ votes?
Second, while abortion is indeed one of the central justice issues of our time, there are others that arguably hold similar weight. Among these, three loom large: the environment, war, and poverty. In each case, there are fundamental issues that threaten the dignity of human life quite as severely as legal abortion.
Given that and the ways these various issues typically line up in American politics, I began reasoning more and more often as I approached voting booths: I could vote for this person who says s/he is pro-life and watch him/her do nothing about abortion after the election, and also watch him/her work in ways that only endanger human dignity further when it comes to the environment, war, and poverty. Or I could vote this pro-choice person, who won’t do anything to help unborn children (but will likely do little to make things worse), but probably will work hard on issues related to the environment, war, and/or poverty.
It’s a very ambiguous mental arrangement, with plenty of internal conflict. Such is politics, though, right? If you think there’s black and white to any of this, I’ll show you the important factors you’re (intentionally or not) ignoring.
Given all of this, something that’s very much on my mind following this week’s elections is a promise that our new Senate majority leader made over a year ago and has repeated since: if Republicans win control of the Senate in the 2014 elections, they would pass H.R.1797, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. That bill — which would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the United States unless the woman is a victim of rape or incest or her life is in danger — passed in the House last year, but never got past the Senate. Now it has a chance of doing that.
Indeed, Charlie Camosy helpfully pointed out this week that H.R. 1797 is not the only abortion-related pro-life legislation that has been blocked by the Senate recently. There’s also:
- the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act (that would apply the restrictions on abortion funding found in the Hyde Amendment to all federal funding streams and require that all plans offered through the ACA Exchanges disclose if abortion coverage is included);
- the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (that would prohibit sex-selective abortions);
- and the Protect Life Act (that would ensure that no funds appropriated or authorized through the ACA could be used for abortion or insurance plans that provide abortion coverage).
Camosy notes: “Each of these bills has the strong support of the electorate, so, if they are passed by Congress, President Obama would be under immense pressure keep his veto pen dry. I think they are likely to become law if Senate Republicans decide to make them a priority.”
So I’m very interested to see whether Mr. McConnell and his Republican colleagues, who now control the Senate, will take action in these directions. I will be watching and taking note, because they now have a chance to convince me that they — that is, Republicans who claim to be anti-abortion — deserve to be taken seriously by me, and by any voters who oppose abortion, next time we walk into a voting booth.