July 6, 2010
Mitch Daniels, Indiana's pro-life Republican governor, recently said it's time to call a "truce" on social issues so that we can focus on getting the country's disastrous financial house in order. Daniels, for the record, has done a great job keeping the Hoosier state solvent in tough economic times, unlike its debt-ridden neighbor, Illinois.
Let's assume for a moment that national issues can be neatly divided into "social" and "economic" spheres. Let's also assume that we can address only one sphere at a time. Given that, is a truce on abortion still the right response? Even if it were, a truce must be agreed to by both sides. Those who support abortion rights have shown no interest in any truce—to the contrary, in fact.
Barack Obama, the nation's staunchest pro-choice president ever, is poised to place his second justice on the Supreme Court in less than two years. While the records of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan on the sanctity of human life are ambiguous, it is safe for pro-lifers to assume that, when push comes to shove, they will support Roe v. Wade as the law of the land.
Obama, who was elected with a well-publicized promise to seek "abortion reduction," has instead taken steps to add to the nation's total of 50 million abortions. His new health care law, for example, provides federal subsidies to insurance companies that include abortion in their care options. One of Obama's first official acts was to revoke the Mexico City policy, which had blocked taxpayer money from going to organizations that promote abortion overseas.
The president has also loosened federal purse strings to pay for more embryonic stem cell research, even though all the evidence points to research using adult stem cells as being more promising (and without the moral problems involved in killing human embryos).
"At the federal level, it will be extremely difficult to advance pro-life legislation or regulation due to the current administration and its allies in Congress," Rob Schwarzwalder, senior vice president at the Family Research Council, told me. "President Obama's policies, both domestic and international, are designed to advance access to abortion on demand."
But the future of abortion will likely be decided outside the confines of Washington. "At least 11 states have passed laws this year regulating or restricting abortion, giving opponents of abortion what partisans on both sides of the issue say is an unusually high number of victories," according to John Leland of The New York Times. "In four additional states, bills have passed at least one house of the legislature." The legislation touches on a variety of issues: fetal pain, coverage in state-run health exchanges, and the use of ultrasounds to show women the development of the human life in their wombs.
Nine of every ten pieces of pro-life legislation originate at the state level, not the federal level, according to Daniel S. McConchie, vice president for government affairs at Americans United for Life. "While Congress is the main focus of attention for so many people in the country, state legislatures have greatest impact on daily lives, and life-related legislation is no exception," he told the Times.
And while the national Democratic Party has become increasingly pro-abortion rights, the country is moving strongly the other way. A recent Gallup poll says that 50 percent of Americans now view abortion as "wrong," while just 38 percent view it as "acceptable." In other contexts, that margin might be viewed as a landslide. Self-described pro-life Americans now outnumber pro-choice Americans, 47 percent to 45 percent. Yet Roe persists, with most Americans loath to overturn it.
"On the one hand, the majority of Americans do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, and think abortion should be legal in at least a few circumstances," columnist William McGurn quotes Gallup's Lydia Saad as saying. "On the other, most Americans favor legal restrictions on abortion that go way beyond current law."
Young people are even more strongly pro-life. The Pew Research Center says that 18- to 29-year-olds consistently favor more abortion restrictions than do those 30 and older. In 2003 Gallup reported that 32 percent of teens surveyed said abortion should be illegal in all cases—compared with just 17 percent of adults.
Even the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute reports that the abortion rate has dropped to its lowest level. The number has fallen from a high of 29.3 per thousand in 1981 to 19.4 per thousand in 2005. The annual number of abortions has also declined, from 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.2 million in 2005.
"Notwithstanding a pro-choice orthodoxy that dominates our film, our television, our press and our colleges and universities," McGurn notes, "strong moral qualms about abortion have not gone away."
This is no time for Christians and other pro-life advocates to be calling for truces, as if "social issues" have no relation to "economic issues." Often they overlap. After all, the highest incidence of abortion now occurs among the poor. If we had fewer impoverished people, we would likely have fewer abortions, too.
Perhaps we should not be so quick to artificially divide issues into "social" and "economic" areas. I prefer to look at policies primarily through a moral lens—that is, asking what will best promote human dignity and flourishing in economics and in society.
After all, aren't economic issues, at their heart, social issues? The English word economics is related to the older Greek word oikonomia, which means "household management." Economics is not primarily about dollars and markets; it's about people.
A year and a half into his administration, President Obama has failed to keep his promises about abortion, and his economic policies have only spread further misery to the nation's households. This November's elections provide an outstanding opportunity to elect pro-life, pro-growth citizens to loosen the Democratic stranglehold on our society and economy. There need be no dichotomy between economic and social conservatives if promoting human dignity and flourishing is the goal.
But whatever our political views, we pro-lifers must redouble our efforts to help women and their babies—born and unborn—in this difficult economy. We must donate to ensure their practical needs are met. We should volunteer our time at pregnancy care centers, pay for more ultrasound machines, and be willing to adopt children born into difficult circumstances.
While often depicted as on the cultural fringe, pro-lifers in fact are in the social mainstream and can speak confidently about this issue and expect to be heard. We already occupy the moral high ground. It is time to show our neighbors what being pro-life looks like.
This is no time for truces.
Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today and author of the forthcoming All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us (Baker Books, November). Stan blogs at stanguthrie.com.