As I’ve spoken with other pro-life family and friends about the upcoming election, I often get the question, “But how could I vote for Biden, if I’m pro-life?”
There are a number of answers to this question, but I should give some clarifications at the outset. First, I will not tell you who to vote for. I believe that, ultimately, this is your decision. It should be your decision. And I will try to resist shaming you into voting a particular way. I don’t think your vote for a particular candidate necessarily makes you a bad person. (Though, to be honest, I may wonder whether you have the most relevant information or are considering the issues appropriately.)
Second, by writing this post, I don’t at all want to suggest that a vote for Biden would be an easy one. It shouldn’t be. If you are pro-life, you believe that a human being is a human being from the moment one has a unique biological identity, and you also believe that Joe Biden wants to protect laws that say some human beings are not human beings. If you are pro-life, you believe that Joe Biden (and many other politicians) want to take a group of human beings and and deny their humanity before the law. I reject laws refusing the humanity of the unborn, just as I hope I would have rejected laws refusing the humanity of people of color. If you are pro-life, you believe that such laws are horrifying, egregious, and dehumanizing to all. You have a responsibility to fight for all human beings, regardless of who you vote for.
Given the above, this post actually won’t be so much about why to vote for Biden, as it will be about why it doesn’t necessarily make sense for pro-life persons to vote for President Trump. So here’s the list:
1. President Trump has argued that he will support the pro-life cause by appointing pro-life Supreme Court Justices, getting a pro-life majority on the Court that will overturn Roe. We’ve been there before, and it hasn’t worked.
As Bill Cavanaugh pointed out in America Magazine, we’ve had a pro-life, Republican-appointed majority on the Court many years. In making this promise, President Trump is promising nothing more than what we’ve already had. But Roe is still with us. Indeed, Trump-appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh sided in favor of Planned Parenthood in one of his first abortion-related cases on the Supreme Court. The first abortion case taken up by the Trump appointee resulted in the protection of the abortion industry’s leading organization. There are a number of non-policy reasons why Kavanaugh decided the way he did. But the point remains the same: the Trump appointee’s decision protected abortion, rather than limiting it.
2. “President Trump will reduce funding for abortion.” Funding has actually increased under him.
In some ways, this promise has borne out. The Trump administration issued a rule banning recipients of a federal family-planning program from funding if they refer patients to abortion services. He also reinstated the Mexico City policy, which bars U.S. federal funding for non-governmental organizations that promote abortion. These are serious wins if you believe in the humanity of the unborn.
At the same time, governmental funding for Planned Parenthood has increased under the Trump presidency. This is not necessarily the direct fault of President Trump. However, I believe that his rhetoric emboldens pro-choice leaders (and also the American public) to garner greater support for the abortion giant. Private contributions to Planned Parenthood have increased by almost 10% over the last year.
We don’t know what will happen with abortions under four more years of a Trump presidency. But we do know what has happened: more abortion funding than ever.
(Update: you can see some helpful clarifications and critiques regarding Planned Parenthood funding arguments by James Heaney here.)
3. The abortion rate has increased under President Trump.
There are two things to consider when looking at abortion in the US: the number of abortions, and the abortion rate. The number of abortions in the United States has been decreasing steadily in the United States since Roe v. Wade. It decreased every year since the Obama presidency, hit an all-time low in 2017, and then (for the first time in about 10 years) increased under the Trump presidency in 2018. According to analysis from the Lozier Institute, the abortion rate between 2009 and 2018 was its lowest in 2013 under the Obama administration and its highest in 2018 under the Trump administration.
When we consider the low numbers of abortions in 2017, it’s likely that we were still seeing the effects of the Obama administration. However, things changed under Trump. Both the abortion rate and the number of abortions have started to increase. Two years into the Trump presidency, Planned Parenthood also reported the highest number of abortions ever. Under the Trump Presidency, Planned Parenthood is better funded and more actively performing abortions than at any other time in American history. Information regarding 2019 is still forthcoming.
4. Where abortion rates are the highest, abortions are more protected in the law than they’ve ever been.
I believe that President Trump’s rhetoric concerning both women and abortion has emboldened abortion activists and legislators. Few things embolden a movement like a belligerent opponent. So while some federal rules have restricted abortions, in many states, restrictions on abortions are being repealed, and access to abortion is being expanded. (Other states have further restricted abortion, but these are mostly states that have among the lowest abortion rates to begin with.)
In New York, which has among the highest abortion rates, the Reproductive Health Act was passed in 2019, allowing third-trimester abortions for the first time since pre-Roe. The Act also expanded who could perform abortions. In 2019, California started requiring student health centers on University of California and California State University campuses to provide medical abortion. Indeed, in 2019 all of the states increasing abortion restriction were states that already had lower abortion rates, while abortion access under the law was increasing in states with the highest rates.
5. “Catholics can’t vote for pro-choice candidates. It’s against Catholic theology.” This is false.
This is actually just not true. Anyone who says this is misrepresenting Catholic theology, and even the position of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB guidance on faithful citizenship states that, while a Catholic cannot in good conscience vote for a candidate because the candidate is pro-choice, a Catholic can vote for a candidate even though they are pro-choice, provided there is sufficient justification. Cardinal Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI) has written, “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.” Of course, this doesn’t at all mean that a candidate’s position on abortion doesn’t matter. It does.
But, contrary to what some priests and Catholic leaders have said, a Catholic is not prohibited from voting for a Candidate that supports abortion (or, for that matter, a democrat). Catholic leaders who say this are misrepresenting Church teaching and replacing Church teaching with their own political views.
6. Being a single-issue voter on abortion can undermine the pro-life cause.
Single issue pro-life voters actually disincentivize anti-abortion legislation for “pro-life” politicians who want to stay in power. For decades, overturning Roe and restricting abortion access has been a rallying cry among large blocs of voters. Many politicians gain pro-life voter bases because abortion is legal, and they tell those voters that they will work towards its criminalization. For many voters, this is all they need to hear. When a candidate says, “I will oppose abortion,” the candidate gets those votes.
The candidate then knows that they will continue to get the votes, as long as they voice opposition to abortion, but also as long as abortion is legal. Once abortion is illegal, they lose their rallying cry and the passion of many of their supporters. So while it would benefit the candidate to restrict abortion from time to time, oddly this also creates a position where the candidate relies on the legality of abortion in order to maintain a voter base. So the “pro-life” candidate actually wants abortion to be legal, and may even resist total illegalization in order to maintain power. It benefits especially Republican politicians to pay lip service to the pro-life cause in order to garner votes, even while they undermine the pro-life cause after elected.
Rand Paul has said this is actually happening in the Republican party. He has shared:
“I’ll give you an example… Last year, I tried to attach to a spending bill a prohibition to have any money spent by Planned Parenthood. You know what happened? [GOP leadership] sat me down and one of the senior Republican senators said, ‘We cannot have the vote today.’ I said ‘why?’ He said ‘we might win.'” Paul said that there are a number of Republican politicians who pay lip service to the pro-life cause in order to fundraise and gain support, but that they “are more concerned with spending money than protecting the unborn.” Republican’s blocked Paul’s amendment to defund Planned Parenthood in 2018.
7. We can’t convince our pro-choice friends that those hidden in the womb are human beings if we don’t treat the people we can see as human beings.
One of the most damning moments of the current presidency for the pro-life movement was when our president referred to other human beings as animals. He said, “We have people coming into the country — or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country, you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.”
This isn’t the only time that he’s made comments referring to our fellow human beings as sub-human. We lose our credibility in saying that the unborn are not just “clumps of cells” when we have our leaders referring to immigrants as “animals.” A human being is a human being. Our president suggests otherwise with his words and actions. This undermines our work to promote the dignity of the human person.
8. If we want to end abortion, we need to end the culture of death. This includes promoting the family and the dignity of women.
A “culture of death” is about more than the legalization of abortion. It’s also about the breakdown of the family, unbridled sexuality, and the mistreatment of women. Those who will provide the strongest protections against abortion are often those who live in faithful marriages with respect among the spouses, and where women are valued and can live up to their full potential. It’s thus a great irony that a serial adulterer and serial divorcer is currently the face of the pro-life cause.
Catholics need politicians who will show us stable loving marriages where children will be accepted, loved, and cherished in the family. We need men who will demonstrate restraint, virtue, and respect in the way they speak about and live their sexuality. Foundations for the truly pro-life cause include faithful marriage, the proper restraint of passions, and the promotion of women into places where they will be heard and respected. The foundations for a Trumpian pro-life cause include serial divorce, serial infidelity, and the silencing of women for one’s sexual indiscretions through NDA’s.
President Trump’s words, actions, and marriages present us an image of the pro-life man as a man who degrades women, who trades in former spouses for younger models, and who uses his vast wealth to keep women quiet about extramarital affairs. (And he tries to use his power to keep the women silent that he had paid off, even after he has become the self-proclaimed champion of the pro-life cause). The Trumpian pro-life man is, paradoxically, the man likely to put women in situations where they would seek abortions, even while he speaks against abortion himself.
I will not vote for that image of the pro-life man. Because that image is not pro-life.
9. The pro-life vote isn’t simple. And it shouldn’t be.
I will not stop working towards the protection of the unborn, both under the law and in the life of the culture. The election is neither the beginning nor the ending of the pro-life cause. Rather, it is one step in this difficult work. Support for abortion is mainstream. It is well-funded. It is well-educated. It is complex and dynamic. We, too, must work for the mainstream. We need funding, education, complexity, and dynamism. Part of this involves thinking outside the box, not seeking short-term solutions, and not getting caught up in shallow words.
This is why President Trump will not be getting my vote. He represents just one version of the pro-life man, a version which is callous, which is narrow-minded, which discards women when they no longer suit short-sighted desires, and which bolsters abortion advocates into increased donations and activity. That is one version of the “pro-life” man.
I want to be a different version. I want to be part of the pro-life generation that is smarter, more dynamic, and more comprehensive. I want to put women and men into power who will fight for strong marriages, for the legal protection of the unborn, for women to be heard and to exercise influence, and for the support of women who may be inclined towards abortion.
I want to be part of the new pro-life generation.
More thoughts on the election:
- 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.