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The Problem With Abortion Politics


It’s election season in America again. And since January 22nd, 1973, U.S. conservative voters 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” to the Constitution. 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. Sure, some policies get switched around, federal funding for programs that include abortion is redirected, but at the end of the day, there is no statistical difference in the number of abortions performed as a result of a change in the party in office. Should we be surprised? 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 to the Constitution. 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 (Roberts has been extremely disappointing on key votes like the Affordable Care Act) and yet these justices were 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. 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 former 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.

The stark reality is this: we may be watching the last gasps of a dying republic. So as the election debates once again heat up and Catholics try to choose morally acceptable candidates from a series of less-than-desirable choices, the only advice I can offer is to be careful who you vote for. Make sure that it’s someone whose policies you really support, instead of just the candidate you think has the best chance of winning. Under the present circumstances, reasonable moral arguments can be made to vote for someone who isn’t as strong as we would like on abortion (since no candidate is likely to initiate substantive legislative changes on this issue) if he were able to provide some other, compensatory benefit that might help stabilize the nation’s future. If we ever want better choices, we need to send the message that we’re not just going to accept empty promises and the status quo. In the mean time, betting all our chips on the issue least likely to be affected by the actions of a sitting president may lead to the election of someone who will at last cost us the country, and all the policies that matter most along with it.


A version of this article was originally published at on June 21, 2012. It has been slightly updated to reflect the present election cycle.

29 thoughts on “The Problem With Abortion Politics”

  1. All human acts have a moral character, and laws are written to punish certain acts while supporting others. Politics and morality are inextricably entangled.

    • Well, mostly. There are some moral obligations that politics should stay out of, like the detailed interactions within a family. Likewise, there are some political decisions that are only very indirectly related to morality. For example, there is a moral need for traffic laws that will save lives, but the decision whether the law should mandate driving on the right or the left is entirely arbitrary.

      Basically, though, politics creates laws, and laws can help people preserve the morality they already have. Laws also express what we aspire to be, and that is a morally accountable choice. Laws are not much good at making people moral, though, any more than an umbrella is good at making a wet person dry.

      So we should hold our politicians to demanding standards, but politics alone cannot fix the deeper problem our country faces.

  2. Thanks for posting this. Voting for strategy never works, nor does voting on emotions and how a candidate makes you feel. Strategy gets you a candidate that may be a slick but empty politician and voting emotions gets you some Styrofoam columns.

    • And yet it is the strategy of the two major political parties to put forward the candidate they believe will defeat the opposition, thus giving the people only the party’s choice, making a mockery of what is called representative government.

  3. Steve, Roe v Wade was a purely political decision just as much as Dred Scott was. Therefore abortion, like slavery before, must be addressed in the public and political arena. There simply is no other choice. This is our right – no, our duty – as Americans. Sure, the lines have been blurred between the so called separation of powers, especially since the judiciary has saw fit to ignore the constitution and offer opinions contrary to the constructs of our founding fathers, and now the president overrides congress with off-handed executive orders which the people have no say in whatsoever. But, we still have the ballot box. And, now is the time to use it. As the “slippery slope” continues bringing us back to the evils of euthanasia and infanticide that plagued us throughout the last century, championed by Margaret Sanger, Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and the Rockefellers, among others, and brought to a twisted fruition by Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini, Stalin, and Mao, we, as you must know, have to take a stand and vote for candidates who stand for life from conception until natural death. Else, the insurance companies will have their way and, what Pope Francis has warned us about by asking us read the novel “Lord of the World” will finally take place as it appears to be doing right now. God bless.

    • “We still have the ballot box.”

      Do we, in fact, have the ballot box or are we deceived into believing “the people”, unattached to God, to His laws and commandments, denying the fact that He is the Supreme Authority over man and of nations, can have any hope of living in harmony, in peace and in a world ruled by Satan?

      “The people”, composed of a majority of uneducated, indoctrinated in a school of deception and deceit, influenced by wealthy propagandists, bribed, cajoled, coerced, misled, misinformed, devoid of integrity, good character, and selfish choose a political candidate, like themselves, to lead them, not to the good but to destruction.

      “The people”, in this unUnited States, over 300 million with so many diverse and opposing opinions (not generally based upon anything that is true), with no fidelity to their Creator, can only expect holding off the day of reckoning for so long. I believe only through God’s mercy and the prayers and faithful practice of true Catholics has this nation been spared so far from “the peoples” will to destroy it.

      • Ah, yes, the pacification of making the public believe they still have the ballot box.

        Reminds me of large umbrella corporations that put out products that compete with one another on the market shelves. The reason? People like to feel that they are given a choice, but the $$$ all falls into the same pocket in the wash.

    • George, I think if you polled Americans today, an overwhelming 2/3rds would vote to keep abortion legal in some shape or form. That is, if Roe was repealed probably 45 states or more would make sure abortions were still available.

  4. We typically assume that if an approach is not working, we should change to a new approach. Duh.

    However, in a culture determined to fall, there may well be no workable approach…and the fact that an approach is not working may not mean that it is wrong.

    In other words, there may well be no right approach at this point.

    • “In other words, there may well be no right approach at this point.”

      I couldn’t disagree more. The right approach is simple. Recognize the Social Kingship of Christ, ruler of Heaven and of earth, and then adopt His laws (Natural and Divine Positive) as the laws of the nation. That is the correct “legislative morality” necessary for man’s own good and the good of nations.

  5. When I was a libertarian, I used to agree with Ron Paul that we cannot legislate morality. As a convert, I now completely disagree.
    We used to legislate morality. Sodomy laws. Divorce laws. Etc.

    Law is the great teacher. It is definitely a moral issue, but law must meet and support correct morality.

    • Morality *can* be legislated, but only by a moral society. Read Quas Primas and compare what is described to what we’ve got.

      In a hopelessly secular, rabidly anti-Catholic nation, the best thing we can do is to starve the state of its coercive power, not give it more.

      • Yeah, we’re long past the point where we are able to differentiate between right and wrong morality in the realm of politics. There is no objectivity anymore. No social kingship of Christ for us; give us hedonistic liberty instead.

        It is interesting that when a supposed free society’s morality goes by the wayside, government must step in with an iron fist to enforce its own interpretation of morality. Except, this time in history, the ‘leftism’ has gone beyond French Revolution proportions and down the rabbit hole of liberalism to force the new version of morality upon the populace of like transgenderism and all things unnatural.

    • It’s a chicken or egg thing. Did the laws make the people moral, or were the laws a product of a moral people? Classical Greek philosophy teaches that the laws reflect the morality of the people. The law loses its legitimacy otherwise. One cannot legislate morality if the morality is not there in the first place.

  6. Brilliant, and right on. We have to reach directly the hearts and minds of women, along the lines of “It IS selfish to be pro-life”, and so on. Show them the lithe contraception-abortion culture has used to hold sway over them.

  7. Steve, while I share your frustration, your analysis of the situation is flawed in several aspects.

    To highlight 3 of them:

    -The “Republican judge” slam is really not that accurate. When Roe was decided, abortion did not split the parties the way it does now, and of the judges in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, only O’Connor could be legitimately cited in this fashion. Stevens, Souter, and especially Kennedy are all “Bork” justices, appointed after Ted Kennedy’s infamous “Robert Bork’s America” speech demonstrated once and for all that the Democratic Party was a wholly owned subsidiary of Planned Parenthood. The lesson to be drawn from this is that both the Presidency and the Senate must be taken away from the Democrats in order for any progress to be made in overturning Roe (especially this cycle, with as many as four Supreme Court justices likely to retire before 2020).

    -The Sanctity of Life Act had better not work the way you think it does. The courts are unlikely to allow something they consider unconstitutional to pass by merely because Congress tries to say they aren’t allowed to look at it–and if they somehow do, the precedent that sets would be even worse, because the next time a Democratic President and Congress took power, we could then look forward to the First Amendment (among other things) being revoked by statute and kept out of the courts in the same fashion.

    -Don’t expect too much, too quickly. Yes, overturning Roe would only return the issue to the states, and almost everywhere, abortion would be legalized. But WE WOULD BE FREE TO ACT IN THE STATES to change that, however much or little we could. That’s the first step. Expecting more than that at this point would be unrealistic.

    The pro-abortion movement didn’t spring up overnight. It took multiple generations to go from Margaret Sanger to Roe v. Wade; it will likely take at least twice as long to reverse the damage.

    And really, that is what we should expect. This is the Biblical model: One sows, another reaps, and only God is present through the whole process.

    Us? We haven’t even finished clearing the field of rocks, yet.

    • Actually, the power of Congress to deny the courts jurisdiction in particular cases is mentioned specifically in the Constitution. I’m not an expert on this subject, but I think it’s been exercised before. So there’s nothing new or shocking in this idea.

      As far as Congress overturning Roe, this is something the Roe decision explicitly foresaw. If you read Blackmun’s decision, he says that the reason the court came down in favor of abortion being an exercise of an unenumerated privacy right, was because the personhood of the “fetus” was not clear. But, if the personhood of the fetus could be established, the case — i.e., for Roe to have a “right” to an abortion “would collapse.” That’s what the Roe decision said.

      So the Life at Conception Act (which is what it’s called in the current Congress) does precisely this. And I would point out further that the 14th Amendment gives Congress the authority to enforce the amendment.

      FWIW, the Life at Conception Act has had something like 130-150 cosponsors in recent Congresses; I’m not sure where it is now. That’s pretty substantial support.

      • While Congress does have the power to strip the courts of jurisdiction, there is an inherent tension between that power and the very concept of judicial review, and the limits of it are not clear.

        I do not believe it has ever been attempted in regards to a case where the constitutionality of a law was in question, and the most recent example I could find of Congress attempting to deny the Supreme Court jurisdiction in anything–section 1005 of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005–was rejected by that same Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld a year later. The outlook is not promising, particularly with the current makeup of the Court.

        (Likewise with the “personhood” loophole–it was deliberately left ambiguous. The minute something like the LCA is passed, I can guarantee you a pro-Roe Court will pull a Dred Scott, declaring once and for all that the preborn are not persons. At that point, as was the case after Dred Scott, the only remaining recourse would be a Consitutional amendment.)

        • Noted. However, I would point out that the record of Congress intimidating the Court is pretty strong. Also, when LCA becomes law, there’s a GOP Congress and President, meaning more conservative court appointees. Heck, they can expand the membership of the court — they are always complaining about their work load!

  8. I think the Volkstead Act applies to this issue. From 1920-1933 alcohol production and consumption was made a felony. Yet, at least half the population regularly drank beer, wine or spirits. From a purely logical point of view, the law made no sense as it made a criminal of someone who consumed a glass of beer or wine. Yes, if 80% of Americans were teetotalers, or could be easily convinced to become one, the law would have made sense.

    If Roe went away today, anywhere from 40-45 states would still allow abortion in some fashion. In that case, it would be up to the Church and other Pro-Life activists to convince people otherwise. Then, over time if such convincing worked, abortions would decrease to such a degree that making it illegal would be largely symbolic.

    • “Yet, at least half the population regularly drank beer, wine or spirits. From a purely logical point of view, the law made no sense as it made a criminal of someone who consumed a glass of beer or wine. Yes, if 80% of Americans were teetotalers, or could be easily convinced to become one, the law would have made sense.”

      You appear to be conflating the argument “the law made no sense as it made a criminal out of someone who did nothing wrong” with the argument “the law made no sense because 80% of the population violated it.” Those two arguments are not actually related, nor are they of equal weight. I suppose that not 80%, but much closer to 100% of drivers at some time will run a red light or a stop sign, in spite of which it should remain illegal to run a red light or stop sign.

  9. Americans who love God, their fellow citizens, and their country:
    1) Should be disturbed that some of their founding fathers including George Washington were free masons.
    2) Should be indignant that by trickery, Congress no longer controls the country’s monies as the fathers and the constitution then intended, and that the Federal Reserve is neither federal nor has any [gold] reserves and that it is held privately.
    3) As worshippers of the one true God should be filled with horror that some presidents including Thomas Jefferson are Illuminati, and others including Reagan have participated in rituals at the Bohemian Grove where there is a large giant owl statue.
    The US is a lie.

    • Now this is interesting: George Washington died a Catholic?

      – George Washington died a Catholic by June 27, 2005 []

      – Slaves Held Washington Became a Catholic on His Deathbed by The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary October 14, 2008 []

      • This, too, is interesting. The St. Benedict Center over at are canonically unrecognized by the New Hampshire Roman Catholic Diocese and the Universal Church. Google ‘feeneyite catholics’ or go to Amazon, books. “Deliver Us…a religious cult vs Richmond, NH.”

        • Interesting! Does that cast a shadow on the site and the story on George Washington? The latter I think not because it is not from them.
          What is the status of “The Religious Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen” and “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Mission” in Salem? []


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