Phil Vischer recently posted on his YouTube channel a video of Pastor Skye Jethani, who argues that abortion should not be the sole determining factor in how Christians vote. On the surface, Jethani’s argument is powerful, but I ultimately disagree with it.
Jethani’s primary argument is as follows:
- Republican appointments to the Supreme Court have not led to overturning abortion.
- Roe would not end abortion nationwide.
- Abortion has persisted in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Vischer and I had a polite exchange on Twitter after he posted the video, and I’m thankful for the civil discussion. Nonetheless, I think his posting of this video is unhelpful as it muddies ethical thinking and that Jethani’s analysis is seriously flawed, which I’ll explain why below.
But first, Jethani’s argument is correct to the extent that he states that overturning Roe would not end abortion nationwide. True enough. Overturning Roe would send abortion back to individual states to determine whether they would allow it in their jurisdictions. And further, Jethani is right that even in the most ideal of circumstances where Roe was overturned, eliminating all instances of abortion is highly improbable because (1) deeply progressive states would likely retain their abortion laws; (2) the nature of human sin ensures that even illegal abortion procedures would likely continue (it should be said, however, that we should not be resigned to evil’s perpetuation just because human nature ensures sin’s continuation). Finally, Jethani is certainly right that abortion is not the only issue we should care about when it comes to voting as Christians, but there are issues, like abortion, that are so morally unambiguous that failure to legislate justly is therefore disqualifying. To say it differently, it takes a lot of issues for a person to be correct on to earn my vote and wrong on only one of them to be disqualified. Abortion is one such disqualifier.
And here is where Jethani’s analysis begins to break down. Jethani’s analysis compares and confuses two dissimilar things: Voting in order to end all occurrences of abortion and voting to expand or impede access to abortion and the larger underlying abortive worldview, are separate things. The underlying assumption in Jethani’s video is that because abortion will continue regardless of political circumstances, it should not be the preeminent factor in how a Christian votes. This explains a major ethical presupposition: Do we vote on the basis of a pragmatism that concedes the moral playing field to abortion’s inevitability or do we vote based on the substantive moral issue at hand? Jethani believes the consequentialist reality means downplaying abortion as a sole litmus test in voting. A more principled approach, on the other hand, would investigate whether and how one’s vote materially contributes toward something systemically wrong. A law that allows for abortion is inherently unjust, like a law that allows for murder, slavery, child sex-trafficking, pedophilia, etc. With morally permissible laws, we can afford to be consequentialists. Yet with intrinsically unjust laws we must oppose them for fear that “we give approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32).
The better voting analysis, I think, is to determine whether our vote contributes or hampers the abortion regime. We should ask ourselves: Is our vote contributing to a systemic injustice by further entrenching its worldview? Are we empowering mechanisms that will dilute abortion’s grip on American politics or promote it? And let us be very, very clear: Despite the Republican Party in no way being equivalent to “God’s party,” the difference between the two parties’ attitudes toward life could not be any starker. The Democratic Party has moved from “safe, legal, and rare” to eliminating any stigma whatsoever and working to protect the right to an abortion at the latest possible stages. Voting for the Democratic Party when it comes to abortion is voting not only for policies or a platform, but a worldview and social imaginary opposed to clear Christian moral principles.
Secondly, I think Jethani ascribes an incorrect motive to the pro-life voter. I have never met a pro-life voter who thinks that their vote would ensure the end of all abortion; instead, they vote to chip away and disempower an abortion regime legally codified in our law. Jethani would have us believe that a failure to obtain an ideal somehow nullifies the moral triage of the equation. I don’t see how this follows at all.
And that gets us to the real moral analysis we need to consider: The collective searing of our national conscience. In a sane world, we would not ambiguate or equivocate on abortion as we do. We do so only because abortion is a politically correct evil. Apply the moral analysis of Jethani to another issue—like slavery, for example—and it completely unravels. Slavery is as historically entrenched as abortion, but yet with slavery, we rightly practice zero tolerance and expect its total abolition. Just ask yourself: Should we make slavery “safe, legal, and rare,” or should all effort be given to dismantling the whole system—its worldview, its infrastructure, and its policies? The battle is not merely over less slavery, but no slavery whatsoever. The moral calculus is just the same as applied to abortion. The pro-life movement is not one only of legislation or Supreme Court nominations, but a comprehensive strategy that looks to shift the moral imagination away from one that accepts the plausibility of abortion. Voting for a Democratic politician ensures the continued perpetuation of a particular moral ecology, not just a policy or judicial nomination.
Many evangelicals get upset at other evangelicals for making too much of abortion, especially at election time. Perhaps that’s the point. Maybe fervent, unwavering opposition to intrinsic injustice is a line worth drawing. Maybe that channels the spirit of Wilberforce more than accommodating or subtly furthering this worldview by destigmatizing our complicity in perpetuating it. We should be voting in such a way as to communicate the gravity of wickedness on display when it comes to abortion. But yet, we do not do that, and it is sad to see Christian voices use their platforms to obscure the most significant human rights atrocity of our time.
To me, the two parties represent asymmetrical moral contrasts. One supports a heinous practice that I consider a form of genocide. It insists upon a legal infrastructure that facilitates a patent injustice. For one American political party, abortion is not merely a policy platform, it signifies the raison d’être of the party’s ideological commitments. Any political party that supports unchecked access to abortion is not a party that I believe is a legitimate option for Christians to empower. We should either vote to end the abortive worldview or not vote at all.
I know this scandalizes some. To me, the scandal is that it is a scandal for me to say that this is a scandal. To defer, equivocate, and rationalize to attenuated political realities means the moral compass and conscience of evangelicalism is wrong. It needs recalibrating.
This establishes a voting rule: Apply symmetrical moral analysis across the board to all parties equally. We should not let one’s favored causes or situation-in-life excuse the perpetuation of intrinsic injustice. Meaning: Accustomed injustice in one party’s platform does not justify perpetuating it. If you would not excuse one person’s right to vote for a party engaged in perpetuating injustice, you should not allow it for yourself, either.
We have been conditioned to ignore politically correct injustices. Polite society did that generations ago on slavery; we do it now on abortion. Perhaps in two hundred years, history will look back in horror on our generation the same way we now view the Confederacy. We’ll deserve history’s scorn. If we truly understood the moral terms of abortion, we would stop everything we’re doing and do nothing else than channel our energies in preventing the plausibility structure behind it. We won’t. We believe we are the social justice generation. We truly are not. We imbibe the barbarian spirit we impute to prior generations.
This is not about being conservative or liberal; Republican or Democrat; Trump or Biden. How wonderful would it be if both of America’s two major parties were against abortion? That would fundamentally change our politics and upend debates that Christians have about the appropriateness of voting for certain parties. Voting when it comes to abortion reduces to a simple question: To what will our conscience give no sanction or quarter? Abortion should be obvious. It is history’s most significant human rights tragedy.
At the end of the day, Jethani has made a consequentialist argument while overlooking the underlying moral principle—whether Christians can lend legitimate support to a regime, worldview, and ecology that denies the truth of who God is: The Author of Life (Acts 3:15).
In addition to the bad argument Jethani makes concerning the outcomes of one’s vote, I would point readers to Ramesh Ponnuru and Robert George’s recent article in National Review showing why one’s cooperation in voting for pro-choice politicians is also morally compromised.