(TW: racism, slavery, abortion.)
My work in trying to be more anti-racist has me more uncomfortable voting for Joe Biden as a pro-life person, but I’ve been struggling with what I’ll do with the election. A hypothetical situation I’ve been considering is…
Let’s say I live in the South pre-Civil War, and I’m voting for Governor. I have two candidates. Party A Candidate says he will appoint judges to the State Supreme Court that will overturn legal precedent which has allowed the legalization of slavery. Party A has been in power for a number of years and has the majority of court appointees, which have yet to do this. And while Party A is against the legalization of slavery, they’ve allowed segregation to continue and have promoted socio-economic policies that have resulted in the disenfranchisement and homelessness of poorer populations, the majority of whom are people of color. Party A has also done virtually nothing to address increasing violence against people of color.
Party B Candidate is in favor of having slavery protected in the law, but believes that all people (including people of color) should have better living conditions and be protected from violence. Party B has comprehensive policies to increase state benefits and would like to increase programs that would benefit poorer and homeless populations, including for people of color. Party B supports slavery, but they want a “compassionate slavery” where slaveholders are expected to treat their “property” with “respect” and could be prosecuted for failing to do so. (Part A, though against slavery as an institution, is not in favor of such prosecution.)
Third Party Candidate is not electable, and combines an anti-slavery position with plans to prosecute for violence against persons of color and comprehensive welfare/support programs for poorer and homeless populations.
Who do I vote for?
As a pro-life person who is also working to be more anti-racist, this is roughly how I feel with the upcoming election. I first want to recognize that the comparisons between abortion and slavery, and between the hypothetical candidates and our current candidates, are not at all perfect. The analogy breaks down at many points. They are different issues, and for important reasons. But I believe that better understanding one can help shed light on the other.
I also recognize that it may be difficult to comprehend if you don’t believe that life begins at and is an irreducible center of dignity and grace from conception. So I recognize that, for many of my pro-choice friends, this connection is ridiculous and possibly offensive. I just want to recognize this, and also say that if you want to convince your pro-life Trump-voting friends to vote otherwise, what I’m presenting will probably be one of the positions you’ll need to address, rather than just beat down. (If you beat it down, you’ll likely just further entrench them in their position.)
The Pro-Life Position
To clarify, by the “pro-life position,” I here mean a secular position. The position holds that a human being is a human being as soon as there is a unique biological identity. The alternative, according to this position, is that one’s status as a human person is dependent upon location, stage of development, and/or level of dependence. Pro-life persons with this position believe that the alternative isn’t a very strong position, is necessarily subjective, and has horrifying consequences for all kinds of people if carried to its logical conclusions.
For these pro-life persons, there are a few different issues. First, pro-life persons want the law to recognize a human being as a human being (and they believe that a person is a human being from conception). This is essentially the legal problem for pro-life people: that we take a set of human beings, and declare them less than human because of their stage of development. This is its own issue, distinct from (but related to) the second issue.
Second, pro-life persons want to reduce the numbers of abortions, both legal and illegal (in comprehensive ways, including through the law and through better support and resources). This is, more or less, the social problem.
Making abortion illegal is not enough on its own. Women will still desire and procure abortions, for complex reasons. It’s hard for me to really consider myself as an advocate for the dignity of the human person without striving for both recognition of a person as a person under the law and for policies that promote the good of the human person. I must respond to both the legal problem and the social problem. There’s something deeply troubling for the pro-life person who gets a candidate that says, “I want to reduce the number of abortions through resources, but I want to protect the law’s labeling of an unborn child as sub-human.”
If I believe a human being is a human being from conception and regardless of color, I find the statement deeply troubling, just as I would for Party A in my hypothetical, where they say, “I want to reduce violence against and increase support for people of color, but I want to protect the law’s labeling of them as sub-human.” All this, even while recognizing that resources, reductions in violence, and increased support are important. It’s my consideration of anti-racism that makes me less comfortable with voting for Joe Biden as a pro-life person. Part of being anti-racist is resisting “compromises” that protect racism and racist viewpoints. So surely part of being pro-life is resisting similar compromises when it comes to the status of unborn children as human beings, right?
I think that if I hadn’t been thinking about issues of race so seriously, I’d be much more comfortable with it. I’m asking myself, “If I had lived in the pre-Civil War South, what sorts of compromises might I have made as a voter?” It’s hard for me to overstate my unease with the upcoming election. To me as a pro-life person, the “compromise” with myself to vote for Biden feels similar to a “compromise” with myself to vote for Party B Candidate. And to convince myself to vote for the former feels like convincing myself to vote for the latter. Persons are persons, regardless of color or stage of development. When I say, “Convince me to vote for Biden,” it also feels like, “Convince me to vote for Party B Candidate.”
I don’t believe that single-issue voting is ideal; I believe that this approach to voting often even undermines one’s goals for that issue. But there are certain issues that loom large for me. If I lived in the pre-Civil War South, I hope that slavery would have been one of those issues. Living in America in 2020, abortion is one of them. All of this raises concerns about a Biden vote for pro-life persons.
I don’t want to suggest that I think Trump is a better alternative. I see our current President as ultimately undermining the pro-life cause in how he treats the poor, the vulnerable, and women. Indeed, I see him as doing much more harm to the pro-life cause than any truly “pro-choice” candidate has in recent years.
These are just some issues I’m personally trying to work through. I’m very open to your thoughts.
More thoughts on the election:
- Why President Trump isn’t getting my pro-life vote
- Anti-racism and my pro-life vote
- Never before have I felt the President’s words could endanger my physical safety
- A Catholic on this election cycle
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.