Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Pro-Life Evangelical Votes for Democrat Obama

Starting in 1984, I have never voted for a Democrat for President, primarily because the Republican candidate expressed a pro-life stance, and had the backing of a party with a pro-life platform. 2008 is different. Here's why:

1. Valuing the dignity of human life goes far beyond opposing abortion. I've decided that being pro-life means:
  • You care about the world that you are leaving to future generations.
  • You care about the dignity of the most vulnerable--the poor, the oppressed, the elderly, the unborn.
  • You care about the eradication of injustice and inequality.
  • You recognize that Americans have no special dispensation from God to act as they please, since all human beings are created equal, whether they are Iraqi, Zimbabwean, French, Chinese, or American. This doctrine leads to a real humility with regard to choosing to invade other countries militarily. I salute the men and women who serve courageously in our armed forces, but I cannot abide the Bush Doctrine and those who uphold it (most notably McCain and Palin).
So my previous view of pro-life policy was far too narrow, because it focused on just one (albeit important) aspect of life. And here I might add that influential Christian thinkers, both Catholic and Protestant, have been preaching this broad view for some time. In fact, the seven principles of Catholic social teaching, as declared in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum ("Of New Things"), are:

* Life and Dignity of the Human Person
* Call to Family, Community, and Participation
* Rights and Responsibilities
* Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
* The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
* Solidarity
* Care for God's Creation

As I look over this list, I see a lot of areas where Democrats, in my view, hold the upper hand. They do much better in the "option for the poor and vulnerable," especially as this pertains to tax policy. They support the rights of workers to organize and earn a living wage far more strongly than Republicans. They have more consistently expressed a concern for stewardship of God's creation. They have earned my vote.

2. The Democratic emphasis on pragmatic policies to reduce abortions holds greater promise than the Republican emphasis on the ideal of making abortion illegal.

First, the Republican approach of restrictive legislation is preordained to fail due to the legal doctrine of stare decisis (adherence to precedent). Short of a constitutional amendment, Roe v. Wade and other decisions that allow a woman to give preference to her health as determined by her and her physician rather than her unborn child will remain the law of the land. In other words, our next President and his judicial appointments, whether they be pro-life or pro-choice, will have very little influence on the legality of abortion, because the issue has already been decided on constitutional grounds.

Second, access restriction legislation is far less effective at reducing abortion than liberal welfare policies. The "Reducing Abortion in America" public policy study released by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good concludes that abortion restriction policies such as parental consent laws have had a negligible impact on abortion rates. On the other hand, "social and economic supports such as benefits for pregnant women and mothers and economic assistance to low-income families have contributed significantly to reducing the number of abortions in the United States over the past twenty years." Here I will let the report speak for itself:

"[A] two standard deviation difference among states in the reported level of economic assistance to low income families is correlated with a 20% lower abortion rate. Across the entire United States, this translates into 200,000 fewer abortions. The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 allowed states to impose a cap on the number of children eligible to receive economic assistance in low-income families. Removing this family cap would decrease abortions by about 15% or 150,000 nationwide. The findings also suggest that, in the 1990s, states with more generous grants to women, infants and children under the age of five as provided by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program had a 37% lower abortion rate. Finally, higher male employment in the 1990s was associated with a 29% lower abortion rate."

In other words, if you truly desire to reduce abortions in the US,
  • Remove family caps to welfare assistance (which have been enacted primarily in Republican strongholds like Mississippi and South Carolina [my home state]).
  • Increase welfare assistance to the poor, especially in the WIC program. Follow the Democratic California and NY assistance model, not the Republican Mississippi and SC model.
  • Help poor men gain employment skills, and employment.
So which of the major parties, and which of the Presidential candidates, will be more supportive of liberal welfare assistance policies? If you care about reducing abortions, this is the question you should be asking. If you want my vote, stop talking about welfare and tax policy in terms of supposedly promoting socialism and income redistribution, and start talking in terms of compassion and bringing children into the world. This is how the Democratic Party is choosing to frame its policies, and it is quite clear to me that the Democratic policies are dramatically more conducive to reducing abortions.

The great irony of the abortion debate is that some of the most vociferous voices against abortion have, through their conservative welfare policies, contributed to hundreds of thousands more abortions each year. I will grant that this promotion of abortions has been unwitting. Now that you and I know the truth of the matter on what really helps to reduce abortions, though, we need to vote November 4 on the basis of what really happens as a result of policy decisions--not on the basis of a political party's rhetoric. Deeds, not words, are what count.

3. The Democratic Party's new language about the importance of reducing abortions and its embrace of pro-life Democrats such as Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey appear to be genuine. For the first time that I can remember, the Democratic Party has this year recruited dozens of pro-life advocates to run for Congress and has actively supported them with millions of dollars in campaign funds. Pro-choice elements of the party may not be happy with this shift, but they have not prevailed.

Will the Democrats go the distance with this new-found approach to reducing abortions and supporting pro-life candidates, or will it turn out to be a cynical ploy designed to garner votes in 2008? It's impossible to predict the future, but I'm willing to give the Democrats a chance to demonstrate their sincerity. Part of the reason I'm willing to give them this chance is that I have not been particularly impressed with Republican leadership on the issue over the past 24 years; the gulf between Republican talk and Republican action has been quite acute. Even this year, McCain's attempt to select Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman, staunchly pro-choice friends, as his vice presidential running mate do not make me think that a McCain administration would really care about the issue. For that matter, Sarah Palin never took any notable action on pro-life concerns during her tenure as governor of Alaska. She has behaved in an exemplary fashion in choosing to lovingly raise a Down's Syndrome baby, but this personal virtue has not had any corresponding public policy action.

My decision is made. Because I have concluded that an Obama presidency will be more pro-life (as properly defined) in action, he has earned my vote on November 4.