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Rachel Held Evans is a fairly famous liberal Christian. She recently made a foray into abortion politics by claiming that people who both support Donald Trump and oppose abortion should think again about opposing abortion. This is because, if abortion was stopped, many more African Americans and other minorities would be born.* Therefore, since Donald Trump is racist, as are his supporters, he and his supporters should not want more of these people born. Furthermore, the only way to prove that Trump and his backers want more minority babies is by adopting Progressive social and economic policies.
What she appeared to be saying in her tweets, however, was that abortion killed a lot of minority babies and that was a good thing. If Trump and his supporters realized that, they would join with Ms. Evans in upholding abortion. Ms. Evans deleted her tweets saying that she was misunderstood and pointed interested readers to a blog post of hers from 2016. In the post, she claimed that truly pro-life Christians should vote for pro-abortion candidates without fear and reject pro-life candidates because they are not truly pro-life.
She says that the pro-life ethic in the Bible is supposed to encompass the whole life of a person and not just when someone is a helpless baby. Also, being a pro-life Christian is about more than simply opposing mothers being able to legally kill their children. In this, Ms. Evans and I agree. Where she fails is in pointing out how pro-life conservative Christians have a view counter to hers. She offers no reason to suspect that if we protected and promoted the right to abortion, as Ms. Clinton and the Democratic Party does, in general, that we would end the killing of innocent babies.
She seems to think that because a pro-life ethic is more than abortion alone and that Democrats are better on all aspects of helping people outside that womb that the truly “pro-life” position is to allow babies to be killed in the womb. This is the price for keeping superior social policies for those of us who have survived the womb.
This is a very common misunderstanding of the moral issue of abortion and it misunderstands conservative Christians’ opposition to abortion. Since Ms. Evans doesn’t understand these things, she goes badly wrong in asking conservative Christians to join her in her politics. So it is with a desire of understanding that I write this in the hope that liberal Christians can better understand where their conservative brothers and sisters are coming from.
Understanding Abortion as a Moral Issue
Ms. Evans writes about her pro-life stance:
I believe the sacred personhood of an individual begins before birth and continues throughout life, and I believe that sacred personhood is worth protecting, whether it’s tucked inside a womb, waiting on death row, fleeing Syria in search of a home, or playing beneath the shadow of an American drone.
This is a great example of expanding the issue to dissimilar issues that Ms. Evans believes favors the Democrats over the Republicans. These issues are not linked, however, in the way she thinks. In her whole article, you will search in vain for what protections she would offer the baby in the womb. All she offers is that by pursuing Progressive social programs and involving the government in child-rearing we will see fewer women chose abortion. She believes that lives tucked inside a womb deserve no protection at all.
If she applied her abortion reasoning across the board she would have to admit that our justice system seeks to limit innocent people being put on death row. There’s no order, court-mandated or otherwise, that says we must kill children fleeing Syria so she shouldn’t have a problem with our actions there. Also, our rules of engagement with drones is very restrictive to limit the number of innocents killed in a drone strike.
If Ms. Evans is to be consistent with her thinking on abortion, all the pro-life “problems” she lists above are going great. She, however, treats abortion uniquely. We must not just leave Syrian children alone but must actively take care of them. For the children in the womb, however, no action is required on their behalf at all. Ms. Evans wins no prize for consistent thinking about her pro-life ethic.
The problem for abortion opponents is not that there is just too much abortion but that the Supreme Court of the United States in an ill-informed and lawless decision mandated that the most radical version of abortion law possible would be imposed on all 50 states and the territories in our Union. While this was modified slightly by Casey v. Planned Parenthood, a decision that made our abortion regime somewhat less radical, we still have some of the most extreme abortion laws on the planet. I am all for reducing the number of abortions in any way we can, anytime we can, but as long as the lawless and baseless “right” to abortion exists, it needs to be opposed. If we must have abortion, other than to save the life of the mother, then it should be enacted properly in our political system as a legitimate act of law.
Which takes us to another misunderstanding held by Ms. Evans. She writes about what would happen if were to lose Roe v. Wade:
Every child deserves to live in a home and in a culture that welcomes them and can meet their basic needs. Every mother deserves the chance to thrive. Forcing millions of women to have children they can’t support, or driving them to Gosnell-style black market clinics, will not do. [Emphases mine.]
Gosnell-style black market clinics are exactly the abortion regime that Roe v. Wade forced on us! Roe doesn’t protect us from Gosnell — it gave us Gosnell. Gosnell was not black market, he was open and legal and protected by Roe. Justice Blackmun in his misinformed and delusional opinion in Roe and in Doe thought that he was making abortion legal so that women would not be forced to go to doctors they did not know and have the abortion procedure under the table. Blackmun thought that abortion would be performed by family doctors in normal clinics and hospitals as a routine procedure. Instead, his misbegotten abortion regime was the Gosnell-style black market clinics that were unregulated and women were attended by doctors they did not know or see until the abortion itself. If you oppose Gosnell, you oppose Roe and Doe, and you are completely out of step with the Democratic Party.
As Clarke D. Forsythe points out in Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade, most “back alley” abortions were performed by doctors under the table and were not particularly deadly or dangerous. Also, those were rare before Roe and Doe legalized the so-called “back alley” abortions. (See pages 66-69.)
So Ms. Evans misunderstands the effects of the abortion decisions on our laws, connects abortion to very dissimilar situations and offers remedies that do not address the basic immorality of the abortion. She also misunderstands abortion itself and why it is a moral issue at all.
Ms. Evans writes:
While it would be easier to debate one another if reproductive issues fell neatly into black-and-white categories of right and wrong, good and evil, most of us recognize this is simply not the case. The fact that a woman’s body naturally rejects dozens of fertilized eggs in her lifetime raises questions about where we draw the line regarding the personhood of a zygote. Do we count all those “natural abortions” as deaths? When does personhood begin—at fertilization? Implantation? The presence of brainwaves? The second trimester? There is disagreement among Christians about this, (and historically, even among evangelicals), so is it really my place, or the government’s job, to impose my beliefs on people of all faiths and convictions? If abortion is criminalized, should every miscarriage be investigated by police? Should in vitro fertilization be outlawed? [Emphases mine.]
This parade of difficult questions misses the point of pro-life laws entirely and misses the point of why I and the people I know oppose abortion. Here is the belief: it is wrong for us to legally kill an innocent life without due process.
Here follows a moral example of why one would perform an abortion. In a fallopian pregnancy, a baby is growing in the fallopian tube and the baby is doomed to die and could very easily kill their mother. In such a case, killing the child to save the mother is the morally correct thing to do. Two lives are in danger and only one can be saved. Few people object to abortion in such circumstances. This would be a serious case for abortion to take place. The fact that a child is inconvenient or difficult to support is not a serious reason to kill them. This kind of argument would never be accepted by Ms. Evans if it referred to immigrant children from Syria who are expensive and difficult to support.
Whenever we kill an innocent person, we need to be extremely cautious about what we are doing and exhaust all other possibilities before agreeing to it. We can debate all kinds of things about the nature of a baby and what a baby is like at any particular point in a baby’s life. But all the pro-life side is asking is that we don’t seek that baby out and kill him or her on purpose without very good cause. When babies die of natural causes, that is sad and easier to take when they are very, very tiny but no one is outlawing death itself. Babies die from natural causes all the time; if we could save them, we should, but in most cases, we can’t. Banning doctors or others from hunting the child down and killing it is perfectly compatible with recognizing that many pregnancies end due to unfortunate circumstances.
Her implications that miscarriages should be investigated also misses the point. Abortion law has never been about punishing the mother. Since the point of pro-life law is about protecting the unborn child, punishing the mother is usually seen as counter-productive. What the law is aimed at is the supply of specialized individuals that hire themselves out to find and kill the unborn baby. Eliminate that supply and most babies are carried to term naturally and put up for adoption or raised by their parents.
Ms. Evans understands little about abortion, its nature or how laws against abortion would be enforced. Neither does she understand the full implications of her own position. As she writes:
Imagine you’re a mother of two working 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job in food service, while your husband hunts for a job. (At $7.25 per hour, that works out to $15,080 a year.) Childcare takes about 30 percent of those earnings, rent groceries and other bills the rest. Now imagine that, like a third of American workers, you don’t get any paid sick days, so every time one of your children gets an ear infection or catches the flu, your pay is docked for taking time off to care for them. Imagine too that you can barely afford your health insurance, much less days off for doctor visits, and your employer doesn’t offer any paid maternity leave.
Now imagine you get pregnant…
This is the reality faced by millions of women who consider abortions each year, and the sad irony is the same pro-life politicians who want to force them to have their babies typically oppose raising the minimum wage, ensuring paid sick leave and parental leave for all American workers, and protecting the 20 million people who can finally afford health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act. They also tend to oppose additional funding for successful programs like WIC, which provides food assistance to low-income pregnant and postpartum women and their children.
Most of Ms. Evans’ arguments are about asking cConservative Christians to be more consistent in their pro-life ethic. In the light of her above quote, I wonder how she squares her pro-immigration stance with the accusation above? If America is truly such a hellhole that we must understand why a baby can’t even be allowed to live, how can we let in so many immigrants into our country, many of whom will be working for minimum wage? Should she not be on the border demanding a wall? Is it not the moral thing to do keep people from being trapped in the grinding poverty that America generates? What if the migrant workers that Ms. Evans wants to flood into our country reproduce and have children here? Isn’t it important we stop that?
If her argument works for accepting abortion then surely she would need to stop immigrants from coming in too. It is unclear to me to why Ms. Evans favors immigrants over children born here in America. As she has it, we are morally required to abort children that would be born into a situation that we are also morally obligated to allow immigrants to enter? Perhaps the charges of racism are not as far off the mark as I think or perhaps Ms. Evans’ opinions are more driven by her politics instead of her faith.
Let’s Finish This Up…
It has always been a kind of backhanded compliment to conservative Christians that whenever a Republican is in power we are called to back up our faith commitments in new ways. Any Republican president beloved by Evangelicals gets Progressives to go flipping through the Bible to find Scriptures that seem to back some Progressive policy goal. Conservative Christians are then told to hold on to their faith and politically damage their party and position as much as possible, while being assured that Democrat and Progressive sins are not worth mentioning.
If Ms. Evans and others want to make progress in winning conservative Christians to their side, they need to do the following: Address the moral question of abortion from a moral standpoint. Is it immoral or not to legalize the killing of small children in the womb? If it is immoral, as Ms. Evans concedes, then you have to make the practical case for how supporting the modern Democratic Party will advance that goal. It will not be about reducing abortions only but reducing the moral and social incentives for abortion alive in our culture today. In practical ways, how does supporting the Democratic Party lead to restrictions on abortion?
On the other hand, if abortion is not a very important moral issue, or at least not as important as immigrant children going through a border patrol process or minimal wage hikes and the like, make that case as strongly and forcibly as you can. I welcome the debate.
Finally, I leave you this from Ms. Evans’ blog in 2013 where she seems more concerned about the way the Democrats promote abortion so that you can compare it to her 2016 post. It seems to me that Ms. Evans is on a trajectory of becoming privately pro-life and publicly pro-choice.
* Sawatdeeka posted a link to an excellent article that saved all of Rachel Held Evans recently deleted tweets on abortion. I put that in my post at the word “born” above. The other articles I linked did not share all of Ms. Evans’ tweets.Published in