Wise as Serpents, Innocent as Doves 

How pro-lifers should think about the 2024 election

The death of Roe v Wade is redefining pro-life politics on the state and federal level. Despite many state-level losses on this issue, it is more important than ever for Christians to actively promote pro-life leaders and laws going into the 2024 election—and we must draw on our tried-and-true pro-life convictions to do so.  

Recall the picture of Alice wandering in Wonderland, who, when encountering a fork-in-the-road, is left perplexed. “Which way should I turn?” she asks the Chesire Cat. “That depends,” he says, “Where are you going?” Alice says she doesn’t know. “Then,” drawls the cat, “I guess it doesn’t matter.”  

If pro-lifers want to know which political path is the most prudent way forward in a post-Roe America, we first must know where we are headed; we cannot know which steps we ought to take unless we know where we intend to go. We cannot stare back, like Alice, in idle immobility for lack of a clearly defined vision. 

The pro-life position is simple. As Christians, we are grounded in a common-sense and biblical commitment to defend human life. We desire to bring an end to the abhorrent practice of abortion, which involves the dismemberment and poisoning of the preborn, and to foster a culture of life which respects the dignity and necessity of the family for society.  

The political world, by contrast, is complicated. Christians often have a hard time balancing their desire for an ideologically pure candidate with the felt obligation to minimize the damage of the left. Donald Trump’s recent comments on his intention to keep abortion a “state-level” issue has left many on the right feeling betrayed, and perhaps rightly so. But Christians must not allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. In the face of political constraints, Christians should adopt incrementalist actions that are tempered by abolitionist intentions

Christians cannot sit out of this upcoming election. A Trump presidency, while not perfectly pro-life, will still progress us towards our vision of an abortion-free America. A step in the right direction, however small, is better than 50 steps backwards.  

Where has Dobbs left us? 

The precedent set by Roe tyrannized the nation for over 50 years. In 1973, the Supreme Court had found—mysteriously obscured in the text of the 14th amendment—a requirement that states must allow abortions. Dobbs changed that by allowing legislatures across the country to legislate on the issue in any way they wish, resulting in a nation-wide political tapestry of abortion laws.  

In response, near-total bans have passed in 14 states, while seven others have pursued later gestational limits, ranging from six to 18 weeks—steps forward for the national protection of pre-born life, no doubt. Other states, however, are doing quite the opposite. California and Michigan enshrined a right to abortion in their state constitutions—a strategy which has been proposed in at least ten other states, such as Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, and Iowa. 

Dobbs has empowered the states to vote for life-affirming bans and regulations on abortion. These policies, ranging from heartbeat bills to near-total bans, can bring us closer to our goal—but only if they are passed. Unfortunately, in a nation that has been poisoned by the rot of moral relativism, restrictive bills are often met with fierce challenges, including efforts to repeal pro-life wins across the nation. If conservatives want to win the fight at the state-level, their strategies need to be tempered by political realism, which will look different from state to state.  

The state-level battle: not a losing issue 

In the wake of the Dobbs decision, leftist media claimed that abortion proved to be a “losing issue” for conservatives. The “red fizzle” of 2022 provided ample political ammunition to the pro-abortion left, and some Republicans are ceding ideological territory to their leftist counterparts in relegating abortion back to the subjective dimension of “personal” issues they don’t intend to touch. 

Contrary to what the left argues, Democrat support for abortion–which has long abandoned the Clinton-era slogan of “safe, legal, and rare”– is widely unfavorable with the American public. Polling from 2023 found that 55% of Americans oppose legal abortion in the second trimester, a figure that climbs to 70% in the third trimester. In a party that has become dominated by activists who exhort women to “shout their abortion,” the pro-abortion movement has followed the logical force of “my body, my choice” to its final destination: an empowering “right” to dismember, starve, and poison your baby at any point during pregnancy”– and sometimes, horribly, even after.  

The reason pro-life efforts have failed in some states isn’t because abortion is an untouchable American virtue. Rather, as the Ethics and Public Policy Center has argued, when people are presented with an all-or-nothing choice, it seems that voters tend to prefer the former over the latter. The extreme reaction from the American public in response to restrictive pro-life legislation is not an indication that Republicans are fighting a losing battle. Instead, it is an encouragement for politicians to enact the most pro-life law that present political realities allow. Rather than providing a crushing blow of the pro-life position, it is a case-in-point for political incrementalism. 

As a corollary of this incremental approach, pro-life battles will look different from state to state. In red states, a 6-week ban may be passed much easier than in blue states, where perhaps only a 15-week ban would be entertained. There are winnable pro-life causes in every state—our job is discerning what they are and acting on them.   

Congressional action is needed, too: 

Some pro-lifers maintain that the logic of Dobbs has proven that when it comes to the question of abortion, the Constitution is silent. Just as the Constitution does not confer a right to an abortion, neither does it restrict states from allowingabortion. Thus, on this view, originalist conservatives should take their aspirations of a federal restriction on abortion and throw it to the wind.

If the federal government has no constitutional authority to protect the pre-born, pro-lifers are presented with two options: amend the constitution to include the pre-born, or exclusively focus political protection at the state-level. The first option would require the consent of three-fourths of the states—an unlikely event given present political constraints—leaving state-level action as the only feasible option. This position leaves abortion to the vicissitudes and variety of the democratic process–a sheer matter of the will of the people.  

There are matters, however, that cannot simply be “left up” to the will of the people, such as the equal natural rights of persons. As pro-life lawyer Joshua Craddock retorts, “a majority can’t justly and rightly deny those basic, fundamental human rights to those in a minority.” During the Civil War, for example, the notion that the regulation of slavery should remain a “state issue” did not survive the moral and political scrutiny of a nation founded on the recognition of the inalienable rights and dignity of man. There is ample legal evidence that the 14th amendment, according to originalist standards, applies to the pre-born. The judiciary, thus, can soundly uphold a law that recognizes the natural rights of the preborn in a manner consistent with the 14th amendment and should be encouraged to do so.   

State-level political action against abortion is undoubtedly important. Indeed, it is probably the arena where most pro-life battles will be fought, albeit incrementally. But this does not indicate that congressional leaders should shirk their responsibility to equally protect all human beings from the lethal violence of abortion. Congressional statutes–such as a 15-week national ban–can empower the federal government to oblige their 14th Amendment duty to ensure that no person is denied the equal protection of the law.  

Trump: one of the most pro-life presidents 

Donald Trump’s position on abortion—including his vocal support for rape and incest exceptions—is not totally in line with the pro-life position. A Trump presidency will not be ideologically pure, but it will not introduce roadblocks to pro-life progress. In fact, in allowing for state-level action, Trump leaves the door wide for future pro-life victories. Biden, on the other hand, has committed himself to restoring Roe as“the law of the land,” signed executive orders to protect abortions across the country, and has emboldened the Department of Justice to persecute pro-life activists.  

Christians critical of Trump’s position must not ignore the pro-life wins that took place under his administration. Trump: 

  • Allowed states to withhold federal funding from Planned Parenthood 
  • Appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court 
  • Appointed conservative federal judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, who suspended FDA approval of the abortion pill.  
  • Appointed pro-life figures to the executive branch, including Roger Severino at Health and Human Services and Russell Vought 
  • Spoke at the March for Life in 2020 and was the first U.S President to do so 

Christians can acknowledge the strengths of Trump’s presidency while calling for his repentance and commitment to the pro-life cause. For example, William Wolfe, executive director of the Center for Baptist Leadership, has exhorted Trump to “use his position of power and influence to cultivate a true culture of life in America, to listen to those who are committed to equal protection for the preborn, and make it a goal of his administration, if re-elected, to secure and protect their right to life.” And as Mike Sabo put it in a recent article, “Trump is the only vehicle at the presidential level for the pro-life cause.”  

Making the case for life 

If politics is downstream from culture, pro-lifers must also become expert defenders of their cause. As incrementalists in action and abolitionists in intention, the clear pro-life position must be articulated—and articulated well—alongside our political advocacy. We must become fluent in the culture to teach it the new language of life.  

Contrary to the left’s insistence, the pro-life position does not hinge upon high-powered philosophical argumentation; it is not obscured by abstract theories in metaphysics or political philosophy; one does not require a graduate-level education to be able to articulate its main tenets compellingly. Rather, to be pro-life is to recognize and advocate for our most basic moral intuition: innocent human life should be valued and protected.  

The position can be summed up by this simple syllogism: 

  1. It is wrong to intentionally take innocent human life 
  2. Abortion intentionally takes innocent human life 
  3. Therefore, abortion is wrong 

This is a valid modus ponens. In other words, if both premises are true, the conclusion necessarily follows. The only way someone can refute this argument, given its validity, is to deny one of the two premises.

Human life begins at conception 

What if your opponent simply denies that abortion kills a human being? They may maintain that a fetus is simply a “clump of cells,” or, as Planned Parenthood has described, merely “pregnancy tissue?” Certainly, if a fetus were not much different to a wart, then abortion would illicit no serious moral qualms; “removing” a fetus through an abortion would be no more egregious than getting a skin tag removed. But fetuses are not simply parts of a woman’s body in the same way her lungs or kidneys are. Rather, the unborn child is a distinct, living, human being–and the clear facts of biology demonstrate this to be the case. When a sperm fertilizes an egg, a new organism comes into existence (thus, the term “fertilized egg” is a misnomer). That organism has human parents and meets the four criteria required to establish biological life: metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction. Thus, it is a living human being, which means that “terminating” or “removing” that human being through an abortion entails intentionally bringing about his or her’s death. 

Thus, a fetus is a human being–albeit a small and young human being–but a human, nonetheless.  

A person is a person, no matter how small.  

Your opponent might quickly maintain that the unborn, while human, are not a group worthy of moral and legal protection; in short, they maintain, they are not persons. They would be denying the first premise: that is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.  

What are the relevant distinctions between fetuses and adults–and are they large enough such that they warrant giving one group legal protection against lethal force not the other? These differences can be helpfully summarized with an acronym: Size; Level of development; Environment; Degree of dependency. The term “fetus,” like “infant” or “adolescent” does not denote differences in kind, but rather points along a spectrum of development, a continuum that we persist on throughout the course of our lives. We would rightly regard it as unjust to posit that by virtue of these characteristics (S.L.E.D.), one’s moral worth is diminished.  

Some philosophers have recognized that it is arbitrary to posit a moral distinction between the born and preborn. As a result, they have advocated for the moral permissibility of infanticide. One academic article entitled “After Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” aptly recognizes the logical conclusion of the reasoning underlying pro-abortion activism in stating, “the moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus,” and, consequently, that “we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be.” Defenders of the intrinsic value of human life need only to point out the slippery slope entailed by the pro-abortion position: the denial of rights to born people by virtue of their function and ability.

In short, pro-lifers affirm that humans are uniquely and intrinsically valuable, equally worthy of protection from lethal harm.

Pioneers and Prophets  

Prudent politicians situate themselves just ahead of the curve of change. As pioneers, they tug at the hearts of the American people, creatively discerning the immediate next steps of political progress. Politicians, however, are not prophets; if they push the people too far, they risk alienating their constituents and losing popular support.   

Prophets, on the other hand, have the confidence and conviction to call people back to the virtue of justice. As cultural surgeons, they can diagnose our spiritual and political maladies and incessantly call for the conversion of the American soul. The church, like a voice crying out in the wilderness, is that prophetic voice. As followers of Christ, we must not neglect the indispensable role the church has in combatting the culture of death.  

Pioneers and prophets must work together to initiate long-lasting change. The left long ago understood that to implement a political vision it must first become culturally fashionable, and they have utilized everything from academic institutions to art to transform the heart of America. But we know the one who searches hearts and minds; the one who speaks to valleys of dry bones and makes them flesh and blood; the one who holds the keys of life and death in His hands; the one who died and will never die again.  

The left’s vehement support for abortion has unearthed a spiritual battle for the American soul—and Christians are called to the frontlines. As politically active servants, we must act in a way that minimizes, as is possible, the real human cost of abortion. As followers of Christ, we must remain clear in our conviction and uncompromising goal to end abortion for the violent and unjust murder that it is.  

In this upcoming election, our political action must be incremental in nature while abolitionist in intent. It is important that pro-lifers refuse compromise unless political realities constrain legislative efforts; in that event, we must seek to save as many lives as we can. We must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Liana Gordan

Liana Gordan is a philosophy student at Tyndale University whose writing has appeared in The Conservateur, Upward News and the National Post.

One thought on “Wise as Serpents, Innocent as Doves 

  1. Thank you for a clear-eyed view on the present situation regarding the scourge of abortion which is still regarded as health-care by too many people in our countries. Trump, saddled with many imperfections and problems is still by far our most reasonable realistic Pro-life choice. Thank you for your persistent support of our most vulnerable in our society

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