The Problem With Abortion Politics

Since January 22nd, 1973, U.S. conservatives have had their political autonomy held hostage by a single court decision. Roe v. Wade, by the very gravity of the issue it decided, forever changed the American political landscape, forcing conscientious pro-life voters to focus on this issue to the virtual exclusion of all others and constraining the field of candidates they are willing to vote for to those who have “the best chance of winning.”

Both Democrats and Republicans garner enormous political capital based on the emotion stirred up by abortion. Democrats rally their base over fear that the “right wingers” will once-and-for-all put an end to the “Constitutional guarantee of a woman’s right to choose.” Republicans talk about being “pro-life” and protecting the “sanctity of life.” Some candidates run on platforms that explicitly mention proposed legislation or even a Human Life Amendment. Each party rallies hundreds of thousands of voters (if not more) to their cause by playing on the abortion-related fears of American citizens.

And election after election, nothing of substance changes. But why should it? An issue that grants each party so much power provides the greatest benefit to both by being kept in stasis, never moving too far in one direction or the other, always capable of generating fear that a sea change is just around the corner if “the other guy” gets elected.

In all of the politicking, two important facts get ignored by many pro-life voters:

1.) Abortion is a moral problem, not a political one; it must thus have a moral solution. Politics can’t fix it.

2.) The United States of America is a Federal Republic with a Constitution and a system of laws; while Roe was a manifest usurpation of the Constitution and laws of the United States, there are only certain courses of action available for legal remedy to Roe, all of which must be evaluated based on their probability of success and permanence.

The first of these two points is seemingly obvious, but difficult to grasp on a pragmatic level. Abortion is murder – but not just any murder. It’s murder of the most innocent human life on a mass scale – unprecedented in history – that we have somehow rationalized to the point where it’s merely debated, and we are supposed to be able to “agree to disagree.” The sheer gravity of the situation must be taken into account as we evaluate both the urgency of the issue and the seeming paucity of options we have to redress it.

In this nation, many people believe sincerely that abortion is a legitimate moral choice. Some do so by denying the truth of what it is. Others are more direct – a trend which I suspect will intensify as medical technology continues to make the reality of unborn human life more irrefutable. In her infamous 1995 essay, Rethinking Pro-Choice Rhetoric: Our Bodies, Our Souls, noted Feminist Naomi Wolf wrote a stunning admission about the truth of abortion:

Now, freedom means that women must be free to choose self or to choose selfishly. Certainly for a woman with fewer economic and social choices than I had — for instance, a woman struggling to finish her higher education, without which she would have little hope of a life worthy of her talents — there can indeed be an obligation to choose self. And the defense of some level of abortion rights as fundamental to women’s integrity and equality has been made fully by others, including, quite effectively Ruth Bader Ginsberg. There is no easy way to deny the powerful argument that a woman’s equality in society must give her some irreducible rights unique to her biology including the right to take the life within her life.

But we don’t have to lie to ourselves about what we are doing at such a moment. Let us at least look with clarity at what that means and not whitewash self-interest with the language of self-sacrifice.


War is legal: it is sometimes even necessary. Letting the dying die in peace is often legal and sometimes even necessary. Abortion should be legal; it is sometimes even necessary. Sometimes the mother must be able to decide that the fetus, in its full humanity, must die. (emphasis mine)

This is not a problem government can fix. We cannot slap a law on this gaping intellectual and spiritual wound and think that our society will survive. The country is divided roughly in half on the issue of abortion, which leads to the second point – using our current approach and tactics, we do not have the political will to change the law of the land.

Some have discussed a Human Life Amendment. While noble, this would invariably fail to garner enough votes to pass muster. A constitutional amendment outlawing abortion would require a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress and a two-thirds majority passage by the 50 states. And even if an amendment were able to be drafted that would bring in more of the fence-sitters, it would surely include exception clauses for rape, incest, and life of the mother. If such an amendment were to pass, we would then transition from a jurisprudence that interprets an implicit right to abortion within the 14th Amendment to one that grants an explicit right under specific circumstances, even if it outlaws it in all others. This is a toehold in judicial precedent that can be exploited and expanded over time.

Others rely on what I like to call “judicial roulette” – voting for any presidential candidate who might have a chance at installing a justice on the Supreme Court, who in turn might vote pro-life if a new challenge to Roe comes before the Court. But of course, there’s the problem of the judicial litmus test. Both Justices Alito and Roberts had to be extremely circumspect in their positions on the abortion issue, with Roberts going so far as to re-affirm that “Roe is the settled law of the land” during his confirmation hearings. We don’t know for certain how they would vote even if they had the chance, and yet they are considered pro-life victories in the arena of judicial appointments.

History is more sobering. Five of the justices that decided Roe (Burger, Brennan, Stewart, Blackmun, and Powell) were Republican appointees. Similarly, five of the justices that upheld Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (Blackmun, Stevens, Souter, O’Connor, and Kennedy) were also Republican appointees – with Blackmun being the only common justice between the two decisions. Nine pro-abortion Republican justices in the two major abortion cases to ever come before the Supreme Court, each time comprising the majority? Forgive me if I have little confidence that the next Republican president will pick someone who will turn the tide.

Even if we were to go out on a limb and assume Roe could be overturned, would it mean abortion would once again be illegal in this country? No. Overturning Roe would create no federal ban on abortion rights. It would simply return the issue to the individual legislation of the states in accordance with the 10th Amendment.

So what does all of this mean for the Catholic voter?

In my opinion, it is long past time that we vote our consciences, not the party line. I recognize that CatholicVote is in the business of making endorsements, from which I respectfully dissent. Candidates who favor the centralization of power in the federal government, foreign interventionism, and big government spending while offering no realistic solutions to abortion are not good options for the future of our nation. Every time we grit our teeth and vote for the candidate they nominate, they give us another one like him the next time, only just a little further to the left. Incrementalism has a funny way of sliding down that slope. We do it in good conscience, of course, thinking that by holding our noses and pulling the lever we’re taking one for the team because this time things are going to change for the better.

Have you ever watched Charlie Brown try to kick a football? It’s a lot like that.

In the mean time, our country is slipping through our fingers. We are going broke. We owe more money than we can possibly hope to repay, both to our own citizens and to foreign governments. We are involved in unnecessary, unconstitutional, and arguably immoral wars and conflicts around the globe. We are facing an energy crisis that needs real solutions. We have all but lost our manufacturing sector, and with it, our ability to be self-sufficient in a world that grows weary of American dominance. Our borders are dangerously porous, and our culture is falling apart. What kind of a future are we leaving to our children?

Ironically, there has been real legislation proposed that would address the abortion issue directly and immediately, so we can focus on the other problems facing our nation. The Sanctity of Life Act (introduced several times by Congressman Ron Paul with very little Republican support) would have defined all human life and legal personhood as beginning at conception while simultaneously stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction over the issue, thereby returning the issue to the states. This would not only be an appropriate interpretation of the 10th amendment limitation on federal powers, but would effectively accomplish the same thing as overturning Roe – with far less waiting and political maneuvering to appoint willing justices to the Supreme Court.

I submit that while there are individual Republicans who are serious about the issue of abortion, the party as a whole is not. They win elections by using this issue to rally their base to the voting booth, and that makes legal abortion far too valuable a gambit to willingly surrender.

So be careful who you vote for. Make sure that it’s someone whose policies you really support, instead of just the guy you think has the best chance of winning. If we ever want better candidate choices, we need to send the message that we’re not just going to accept empty promises and the status quo.



44 thoughts on “The Problem With Abortion Politics

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  4. Richard Balogh says:

    Steve, your article seems to be well thought out. I seem to recall that the SC ruled in favor of abortion because no one could legally prove that a fetus is human. Science has progressed since that day. I agree that a political solution can never fully solve the abortion problem. We must acomplish moral solutoion. I am one of those who could never vote in support of a politician who completely supports abortion and public funding. That is why I, a lifetime Democrat, now votes mostly conservative. I think, in my case, the Fifth Commandment, is an over riding reason to vote anti-abortionist. You mentioned that we should vote our conscience. Remember we have an obligation to form a true and correct conscience. we must seriously consider if an economic personal welfare is more important than supporting the life of a defenseless creation.

    1. Francis says:

      Richard, don’t we also have to use our intellect and assess how meaningful and authentic that “support” actually is?

    2. Bowman says:

      It is a common misconception that the Roe case allowed abortion. In fact, abortion was legal in at least 5 States at the time (e.g., California, Hawaii, etc.) What the Roe case did was forbid any State from deciding for itself that abortion should be outlawed. That does not sound like the court was uncertain about legal proof. They clearly decided a human fetus is not human. However, courts at the time were duplicitously considering a human fetus as human (in the legal sense) for some things, just not for others. For example, when a crazed ex-boyfriend punched his pregnant ex-girlfriend, causing a miscarriage, everyone recognized the fetus was human, and therefore had the right to life. And because the human fetus had rights (again, in the legal sense), this was homocide. Hence, the charge was routinely murder, not just based upon the minor harm to the mother. In fact, there were actual cases with the fact pattern where the ex-boyfriend pointed out the hypocrisy. His argument was, hey, either the fetus is human or it is not. If it is not, then it has no rights, and if it has no rights, then you have no cause of action for anything more than minor battery of the mother.

      The point is, courts have long been backed into a corner on this issue, so they simply do not follow the law where it pleases them. If a fetus does not have the most basic right of all, a right to life, and therefore, the mother can, at will, terminate that life. Then no amount of legal justification can explain why it is illegal to terminate the lives of a fetus of a mother who actually WANTS the child. Put another way, if abortion is legal, then it cannot be homocide to kill any early fetus. Yet, expectant mothers and fathers probably do want that to be a crime. From a legal sense, you can’t have it both ways. Either the fetus has rights or it does not.

  5. Bowman says:

    Wonderful article, Steve, one of the best I’ve seen in a while. Though a few appear to disagree with you, I think history proves your point. At the time of Roe, and all through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s a staggering 75%-85% of US voters rejected abortion. Didn’t seem to matter, did it? As you (and one of the comments) note, during all that time, the SCOTUS, a body of life-tenured, un-elected govt lawyers (something that does not inspire much faith) was majority (R) appointees. Didn’t seem to matter did it? As you point out, the “Sanctity of Life” bill has been introduced for decades by one of the legitimate opponents of taking an unborn life, but we see throughout that time, this bill got almost no support from Republicans. So a majority (R) in Congress or an (R) in the Oval Office doesn’t seem to matter, does it? It is abundantly clear that the Roe decision violates the US Constitution, at least with regard to the fact that the COURT actually wrote law (e.g., trimesters, etc), a power expressly granted to Congress alone, and forbidden the court. But that did not seem to matter, did it?

    It does appear, as you say, the two-party system desires this to be a political issue (at the federal level), when it is not. It is only a political issue for INDIVIDUALS (and in our republic, the several States), not for the federal govt.

  6. Steve Skojec says:

    Fascinating. Are people really burying the comments that agree with me using the “dislike” button? Cute.

    Oh, we love our echo chambers, don’t we?

    1. Francis says:

      The “like/dislike” function on this website must have a glitch. I notice that every time I post a comment, someone arranges to have tons of “dislikes” on it. I imagine that person works out of his or her parent’s basement or just does not have a very interesting life. Pray for them.

    2. Francis says:

      Also, I love your graphic of Lucy with the football. Very appropriate!

    3. T More says:

      Fantastic article. It is refreshing to see a writer with integrity. Too often people embrace either the right or the left of Cafeteria Catholicism. Your honesty is appreciated. Please keep up your contributions.

      The votes system is rigged to try to hide any comments that don’t schill for the Republican establishment. CatholicVote mods are aware of this but have not addressed it.

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