Published November 7, 2022
It’s time for hostage negotiations.
Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Democrats, led by ostensible Catholics Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, have made imposing a radical pro-abortion regime the center of their appeal to voters. This pitch seems unlikely to save them in the impending midterm elections, but it does clarify the stakes. Voters who claim to oppose abortion can no longer use the Supreme Court’s usurpation of abortion policy as an excuse for supporting pro-abortion politicians on the grounds that elected officials can’t do much about it.
Now, abortion is on the ballot.
Of course, other excuses remain for voters who profess to oppose abortion but nonetheless support pro-abortion politicians. A common claim is that pro-abortion politicians are better on other issues. For instance, “faithful Catholic” Democrats will assert that the economic policies of the politicians they support provide more benefits for the poor and working classes, and therefore voting for them is, on balance, more truly pro-life. The moral calculus on this is dubious, with more than a whiff of hostage-taking to it (“Sure I’d love to protect babies from the violence of abortion, but we need universal preschool first”).
Still, if we take it seriously, I have a simple request for those who make this argument: name your price.
Please let us know how much money it will take for you to prioritize supporting those who will protect human life in utero. How expansive (and expensive) of a welfare state is required before you’ll stop voting for politicians who support taxpayer-funded abortion on demand until birth? Which set of economic policies would be enough? How much have decades of deficit spending and wars on poverty fallen short? What sort of deal would it take to get you to push hard for your party to restrict abortion, and to walk away if they don’t? Could we, say, give you an extra $100 billion in welfare spending a year in exchange for banning elective abortions in the second and third trimesters?
Such questions may seem fanciful in our polarized political climate, but they are practical and essential, with both policy and personal spiritual implications. On the policy front, there is a genuine movement on the Right, including some GOP officials, to provide more assistance for mothers, children, and families. Texas Republicans unilaterally led the way on this when they paired their “Heartbeat Bill” with tens of millions of dollars in funding to care for women and children.
It is not that conservatives have abandoned all skepticism regarding the welfare state, but that our general doubt about big government is not the same as a libertarian absolutism on the subject. And Republican officeholders tend to be less averse to spending than their rhetoric would suggest. There is therefore room for conservative scholars, such as my EPPC colleague Patrick Brown, to develop and promote practical pro-life and pro-family policies that avoid the worst boondoggle-and-bailout excesses of big-government liberalism—and GOP leaders such as Marco Rubio are listening. Hopefully self-styled pro-life Democrats are too.
The shifting of political coalitions further complicates the narrative that Democrats are the party that most cares for the poor and downtrodden. The Democratic Party is increasingly home to the Bigs of America: Big Business and Big Tech, Wall Street, Hollywood and academia. The material interests of the ruling class and its hangers-on and adjutants urge easy abortion as a substitute for helping poor and working families—businesses would rather pay for abortion than maternity leave. This disdain for helping poor families is illustrated by the attacks, rhetorical and physical, on pregnancy resource centers, which provide real help, and therefore real choice, for mothers. And the money Biden is spending on student loan forgiveness would buy a lot of everything from subsidized housing to car seats to diapers.
Additionally, the unilateral initiatives by Republicans in deep-red states suggests that there are purple-state opportunities for pairing abortion restrictions with increased spending to support children and families. The maximalist pro-abortion position makes even many Democratic voters squeamish, so cutting a deal for extra social spending in exchange for restricting late-term abortions makes sense and should be attempted—but that deal only works if some Democrats are willing to buck the abortion lobby.
That this bargain seems unlikely suggests a need for uncomfortable self-examination by voters who claim to oppose abortion yet vote for pro-abortion politicians. To be sure, candidates always fall short of the ideal, and politics necessarily involves compromise. And though the GOP is officially against abortion, it still has many faults and bad characters. Nonetheless, adherence to politicians and a party that are vehemently pro-abortion is increasingly difficult to justify, other than from a reflexive partisanship that has occluded any rational evaluation of the moral issues at stake.
The Roe regime of judicial policy-making obscured and diluted the connection between voting and abortion, but now the candidates we vote for will determine whether human life in utero is protected or not. This is why anyone who supports pro-abortion politicians while claiming to oppose abortion should name their price. It is incumbent on them to explain, to themselves and others, what is more important than directly protecting innocent human lives from the violence of abortion.
To all the “faithful Catholic” Democrats out there: please just give us your demands so we can negotiate. And for the love of God, stop killing the hostages.
Nathanael Blake, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has included work on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre, Russell Kirk and J.R.R. Tolkien. He is currently working on a study of Kierkegaard and labor. As a cultural observer and commentator, he is also fascinated at how our secularizing culture develops substitutes for the loss of religious symbols, meaning and order.