Are Pro-Lifers Stuck With the Republican Party?

Every election cycle, the New York Times and similar publications run op-eds or features discussing the ’emerging trend’ (always emerging, never quite emerged) of pro-lifers reconciling themselves to voting for the Democratic party. These articles vary widely in quality, and range from intelligent and provocative (if flawed) to embarrassing, but the most common feature is disenchantment with the current state of the Republican party. I will grant that the case has been easier to make this year given the widespread dissatisfaction with the Republican party (particularly among the chattering classes).

Nevertheless, I think the answer to the title of this post is that, yes, pro-lifers are stuck with, or at least would be best served by, support for the Republican party. Some points for consideration:

1) About 1/3 of the U.S. population supports overturning Roe, including over half of Republicans, 1/3 of independents, and about 1/5 of Democrats. Disentangling pro-lifers from the Republican party, as some have suggested, is impractical, unless the goal is to ensure a permanent Democratic majority. A party consisting only of pro-life voters would be politically impotent.

2) The Democratic party is unlikely to modify it’s support for ‘abortion rights’ any time soon.

3) Many Catholic Democrats believe that the Republican party’s preference for lower taxes and lower entitlement spending is in tension with Catholic Social Teaching. Assuming, arguendo, that they are correct, it means that both parties are deeply flawed. The next question from my perspective is: which party is more likely to be open to reform? It seems to me that the Republican party is a more likely to be open to new ideas than the newly-emboldened pro-choice Democratic party.

4) In general, entitlement spending is a one-way ratchet. Even modest proposals for means-testing programs such as Social Security or Medicare tend to come in for substantial criticism (Republicans want to take away health care from old people!). One lesson I take from this is that the Republicans will generally have to accept the expansion of entitlement programs (with occasional, narrowly targeted reforms). There is popular pressure for the expansion of entitlement programs many Catholics see as in-line with Catholic social teaching; there is insufficient popular pressure for overturning Roe. As conscientious pro-life voters are a distinct minority, it seems to me that they should apply pressure where it is most needed.

5) Any thoughts?

Note: I have used the term ‘pro-life’ in the popular sense, which I believe is the most useful sense. To be sure, the meaning of the term ‘pro-life’ could be expanded to include concerns ranging from health care reform, to military strategies in Iraq, to global warming, to animal cruelty, but I see no reason to take a simple term with a well-defined meaning and establish yet another synonym for the common good.

More to explorer


  1. John, I agree that in the short-term, we’re stuck with the GOP. But I also think that we need to have a longer term strategy, which might include assimilating the Dems, looking to the possibility of a Christian Democratic party, etc. Guessing that you’d be in agreement, I’d rather have *multiple* options for pro-lifers than just one… better for the cause, but more importantly, better for the goal.

  2. Chris, you raise a good point. The last 4-8 years in particular have made the disadvantages of being allied with one party painfully clear. On numerous issues, the initial invasion in Iraq, torture, etc. many pro-lifers have been strongly opposed to the positions taken by the Republican administration. Ideally, there would be a range of political options. Working toward that ideal state creates a bit of a collective action problem because of the outsized influence of the Presidency, made particularly difficult for pro-lifers by the Roe decision.

    Any third party would resign themselves to the political wilderness in Congress and national affairs for the foreseeable future. It may be at some point the wilderness is the best place to be, however I am not sure we are there yet, given that one party is fairly sympathetic to pro-life concerns. I would be open to exploring Christian democratic political options if they were on offer, but in the short-term I see little evidence that the two-party system is losing its hold on the electorate.

  3. “Are Pro-Lifers Stuck With the Republican Party?”

    For the foreseeable future yes. The Dems don’t need pro-lifers to win elections and the Republicans can’t win elections without pro-life votes. The third party route is as useful as tossing ballots into a shredder instead of a ballot box. If in the future the Democrats lose enough elections due to pro-lifers voting Republican they may be open to changing the position of their party. Don’t hold your breath. The core value of the Democrat party today is adherence to abortion on demand. Everything else is negotiable, but not that.

  4. I think it’s an absolute necessity that we vote for pro-life politicians. So I guess that means we’re stuck with the GOP for now.

    That said, I don’t think politicians are going to bring about the end of abortion in America. I think it’s going to be a grassroots effort on the ground: Crisis pregnancy centers, 40 Days for Life, sidewalk counselors, etc. are going to continue to dry up the business of abortion–particularly in rural America. I think we’ll see this trend continue until abortion facilities are scarce outside of NYC, California, etc.

    As this changes, I think we’re going to see laws changing at the state level (I could be wrong, but I don’t see FOCA passing) in a lot of the traditional red states. Whereas we got abortion in bang-bang fashion with Roe v. Wade, I think abortion will end with a gradual erosion. I expect by the time abortion is outlawed, people who support, provide, and procure it will be few and far between and that the legislation will be, essentially, a formality.

  5. any meaningful political changes will only occur on a local basis. that means city council members, that means mayors, and that means state congressional seats.

    it is the only way to change things. which mean we all have to get up off of our collective butts and go talk to people in the real world.

    do we have the energy or initiative for that? I doubt it.

    therefore we got more moderates for the conservative causes and continue to lose power on the federal level.

  6. Despite its anti-abortion platform, the GOP has, for me, lost its credibility as a viable instrument for outlawing abortion long term. Republican leaders, particularly in the current administration, have undermined the law itself in their efforts to institute a torture policy through the Office of Legal Council. The problem for the GOP isn’t just the acceptance and even embrace of torture, but the reality that those who undermine the rule of law cannot credibly champion particular just laws. They destroy the foundation on which they build. For this reason I think the pro-life movement shouldn’t stick with the GOP, not with superglue, anyway. To the extent that the GOP undermines the rule of law, it undermines the pro-life cause, even while working to promote it.

    I would still encourage the pro-life movement to work politically for legal protections for the unborn, and this work in practice means working with the two parties, but it should be very careful not to unite itself with either party. Its alliances with political parties should remain fragile, especially as both parties are, to an extent, hostile in their own ways to the movement’s objectives.

  7. In my view, if the pro-life movement wants any shot at ending abortion, support cannot come from only one side of the political spectrum. If Barack Obama weren’t such a leftist, out-of-touch liberal with no experience, I would have found it much more difficult to vote for John McCain after the last eight years of George Bush.

    One thing that does concern me — and this isn’t a generalization of all pro-life conservatives because I haven’t met everyone — in my experience with pro-life conservatives, they often demonstrate to me little knowledge of or concern for other issues and that’s very disconcerning. It’s one reason why I never, and may never, join the Republican Party aside from sincere disagreement.

    I’ve spoken about the food shortage crisis that effected third world countries because of the production of ethanol from corn — to some people, this was not only news, but just a terrible, I hate to say it, side-note at best. “Thats horrible,” they would say to me. And thats it.

    You mention the fact that 47 million people don’t have health care insurance and all you get in return is that people are irresponsible and the nation shouldn’t subsidize them. Point well taken, but how do we solve the problem — especially for children and vunerable populations?

    Then you mention that the GOP is running pro-choice candidates, even allowing one to run for the nomination to be at the top of the ticket, or John McCain may want to change the GOP platform on abortion (to be more inclusive) and they’re ready to write a letter to someone and make some phone calls.

    Does anything else matter to them? I oppose abortion, but doesn’t Christ have brothers and sisters effected by other evils as well? I often wonder this. I’m sure this isn’t the case for all conservatives, but in my experience this has frequently been the case. And from what I’ve discussed and read from many pro-life Democrats, they are simply turned off by the *seeming* lack of concern for other issues that garners hardly even a response to some people. And they genuinely fear that a vote for a pro-life Republican will lead to countless policies they don’t agree with and not much progress on abortion. I think their priorities are misplaced, but I sincerely sympathize with them.

    Another point, to many of my friends, Obama is nothing short of the Antichrist, the devil incarnate, and he is going to destroy the world. Such talk I find to be very ignorant and against any sort of ecumenical dialogue. It cuts off all rational discourse and leaves us with a never-ending culture war. Just today I was talking to a friend about abortion. He is pro-choice. He never knew my views. He knows I’m a Democrat and assumed I was pro-choice until he discovered I voted for McCain. In the middle of the conversation he said to me, “Well, you oppose abortion so much right?” I answered in the affirmative. He then asked, “Do you support the death penalty?” I answered, “No, not at all. I think it should be abolished.” He was shocked. He didn’t know what to say. He realized that my opposition to both was very consistent. I began to discuss things such as abortion and breast cancer, when human life began, how society defines personhood based on convenience and on functions (being autonomous, self-aware, conscious, independent) rather than on what something is by nature — human, the right to life as the foundation of all rights, moral objectivity, and so forth. I addressed his concern about the emotional struggle of the woman and I was welcoming to his points and I acknowledged his sincerity and didn’t put him down. You know what? He was very receptive to the pro-life position and asked to talk about it again later. He admitted that he’s possibly very wrong.

    The greatest temptation in politics — particularly on moral issues — is to attack the other side with ad hominem attacks. It works well if you can pass the other side off as the devil and evil. Nevermind the challenge of modernity, the challenge of relativism, and a culture that conditions us to affirm these things. I spent 10 years of my life as an atheist. Why? Because I thought that was facing reality. I was an atheist because I hadn’t heard a *better* case. Thats what I experienced today talking to my friend Jeff.

    The pro-life message transcends party lines and I think one thing the pro-life movement must do to succeed is to look less partisan. Right now it seems you have to be a Republican to support the sanctity of life and that alienates some people. The creative way, in which we do that, without compromising our mission is the question. But the current method, in my view, is not going to win us any victory as quickly as we’d like it nor as quickly as we need it.

  8. “One thing that does concern me — and this isn’t a generalization — in my experience with pro-life conservatives, they often demonstrate to me little knowledge of or concern for other issues and that’s very disconcerning.”

    Eric, as someone who is a political junkie, I have found that is not at all unusual in either party. Most people have a very few issues they feel passionate about, and have thought little about other issues. Sometimes I think they are the sane ones. I spend a fair amount of time keeping abreast of a great many issues, and I can easily understand the unwillingness of many of my fellow citizens to do so.

    It is intriguing as to why conservatives generally oppose abortion and liberals generally support it. I think it boils down to three main factors: 1. The Sexual Revolution; 2. Feminism; and 3. Religion. Liberals in this country, since 1968, have generally embraced the Sexual Revolution, championed the most extreme forms of Feminism and tended to look askance at religion. Conservatives, while just as likely to commit sins of the flesh, have generally looked askance at the Sexual Revolution as a threat to the family; generally viewed radical feminism with distaste; and generally regard Religion as the source of moral conduct. It is no accident, as the Marxists say, that conservative Republicans fight against abortion as the destruction of innocent human life, while liberal Democrats champion it as a constitutional right. One can point to liberals who oppose abortion, for example my personal hero Nat Hentoff, and conservatives who champion abortion, the late Barry Goldwater for example, but the philosophical underpinnings of both parties easily explain why the abortion battle has become a partisan issue. I would love for pro-life democrats to change this equation, but I do not see this happening for at least a generation, or after some great national calamity that will demonstrate to all how precious human life is.

  9. Eric Brown,

    I’m one of the 47 million uninsured. I’m also one of the dreaded people who puts abortion above every other issue.

    But I’ll put my so-called “right” to medical care that’s been around for less than a century of human history in the back seat to stop the ongoing slaughter of innocents any day.


  10. I do feel stuck with the GOP. I am pretty upset about it. Believe it or not, I like Obama in many ways. I find his position on abortion deplorable, but I still like a lot about him.

    I just didn’t vote. I couldn’t vote for the Republican party. I think John McCain is a very impressive man, but he had to go and pick a running mate who has no business in the White House except on the guided public tour. And, if he ran a country like he ran his campaign, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have much faith in him being an effective leader.

    Things like the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, and the treatment of US Citizen Anthony Padilla may not outweigh the issue of abortion, but I just can’t bring myself to vote for a party that has eroded basic civil rights and abused so many human rights.

    Finally, as someone with a chronic medical condition who cannot get health insurance, I had to move to another country just to get medical care. I was very lucky to have that opportunity. I’d like to come home, but I can’t until the health care situation is sorted out. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy the right-wing arguments against socialized medicine.

    I know, I know… none of that outweighs abortion. Being told that to vote for Obama in spite of his abortion views was still a mortal sin is why I didn’t vote at all. I’m not sure I believe that it’s true, but I am afraid to argue with a bishop.

  11. Kyle wrote: “To the extent that the GOP undermines the rule of law, it undermines the pro-life cause, even while working to promote it.”

    I agree completely, and that summarizes the feelings of many pro-lifers who have voted Republican. I think the debate was too easily caricatured given the perceived (or real) security threats involved, but the actions of the administration ranged from questionable to appalling. That said, it is important to remember that 1) George Bush will not be running again and this was his decision, 2) torture is not part of the Republican platform. It seems to me that the question is: where do we go from here? I submit that it will be increasingly difficult for Obama apologists to defend his record on pro-life issues, and, in the absence of a third party, we should work to ensure the Republican party will represent pro-life concerns going forward.

    Eric – You raised a number of good points (your response would have made a good separate post). I would echo Donald in observing that many, many voters are ignorant of basic political realities in both parties, and additionally that there is an unfortunate tendency on both sides for insults rather than dialogue.

    katy – I would encourage you to read the bishop’s statement. It certainly does not say that it is a sin (still less a mortal sin) to vote for Obama despite his abortion views. Catholics should not, however, vote for a pro-choice politician with the intention of furthering pro-choice policies.

  12. Did you know a record 31 Democratic Party pro-life candidates were elected to Congress?

    According to Democrats for Life of America, five new Democratic pro-lifers were elected, joining 26 pro-life incumbents who were re-elected.

    “This will be only the second time in 30 years that the number of pro-life Democrats increases instead of decreases,” Kristen Day, director of Democrats for Life of America, told “The first time we made gains was in 2006 due to the work of pro-life Democrats all over this country advocating on behalf of the pro-life cause.”

    The first task confronting Congressional pro-lifers from both parties in the next Congress? Forging bipartisan alliances across the aisles of the Senate and the House of Representatives to prevent passage of the abortion lobby’s Freedom of Choice (FOCA) legislation.

    The real question is how are we going to support pro-life politican regardless of them being democrats or republicans? We Catholics cannot find home in either party for many reasons but we must work within both affect REAL change.

  13. John: I know that the USCCB’s statement said it’s OK to vote in spite of pro-choice stances, but then I’ve read several very strongly-worded statements by individual bishops contradicting that.

    I do agree that it’s not a mortal sin if you genuinely believe that there will be less abortions with Obama in the White House. Whether or not that’s correct is certainly up for debate, but being mistaken does not qualify as being in a state of sin.

  14. If you’ve chosen to enter a state of denial over (or intentionally avoided receiving the information regarding) Obama’s record, rhetoric, and campaign promises, then I’d say it’s not possible to ‘genuinely believe’ given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    I’m not saying there aren’t folks who didn’t just ‘genuinely believe’ out of ignorance, but I think it’s probably rarer than I’d hope.

    What really saddens me is the defeat of all the anti-abortion legislation. Makes me think that there will be plenty of GOPers caving in to the abortion lobby to save their jobs (given the trend amongst voters) and the new pro-life Dems won’t rock the boat with the abortionists champion now running the show.

  15. It seems to me that not being a single-issue voter would be pretty useful, in this case.

    Also: how does national healthcare fit into your theology? Or war? George Bush (and McCain) is anti-life on both of those fronts. How can a Catholic vote for the party which supports the death penalty?

    Last, but not least, anyone who thinks that Republicans will over turn Roe v. Wade is fooling themselves. They pull in tons of voters (like you, apparently) who would not otherwise vote for them, just by running this farce up the flag-pole. Not to mention that outlawing abortion wouldn’t stop abortions any more than outlawing liquor stopped drinking. We had illegal abortions in this country, and so many women died that good, thoughtful, caring people, said that a change was needed, and that if something like this was going to happen, it should at least be done safely.

    This whole post is silly. I came here hoping for a thoughtful, intelligent post, weighing the issues, and get a lot of foolishness.

  16. I wouldn’t call either George Bush and John McCain “anti-life” on those positions. I happen to disagree with them on all of those fronts, actually. It is debatable whether or not the two wars in the Middle East are justified, it is arguable if universal health care is the most efficient way of providing medical care to all Americans. Lastly, a great number of Democrats support the death penalty including Senators Obama and Clinton.

    Lastly, overturning Roe v. Wade wouldn’t stop abortions, but it would enable many states to outlaw abortion and give people the opportunity to work toward its end in a way they cannot now. I’ll have to find the studies, but I just looked up the abortion rates state by state and surprisingly, the states with almost entirely Democratic regimes have higher abortion rates, particularly New York and California. You’d think all that economic support for women would really have dramatically done away with abortion entirely, while the conservative states in the Bible belt have a notably lower abortion rate and their method has been placing legal restrictions on abortion for the most part.

  17. This whole post is silly. I came here hoping for a thoughtful, intelligent post, weighing the issues, and get a lot of foolishness.

    Sorry to disappoint. I had a similar experience reading your response. It seems to me that you either mis-read or misunderstood the post. I’ll risk a response, although I am not sure, based on your tone, whether it will win a hearing.

    George Bush (and McCain) is anti-life on both of those fronts

    The post is not about McCain (still less for Bush). The argument is about what pro-lifers should do going forward.

    how does national healthcare fit it into your theology? Or war?

    If you read the post, I conceded that for many Catholics, both parties are deeply flawed. I suggested that the Republican party may be more open to reform on an issue like healthcare than the Democrats will on abortion. After all, McCain had a plan to improve healthcare this election; Obama offered FOCA and the removal of ‘rare’ language from the Democratic platform to offer pro-lifers. Regarding foreign policy, unless you have a crystal ball into 2010-2012 it’s a little early to compare approaches to foreign policy. Whoever the Republicans nominate, it won’t be McCain or Bush.

    Last, but not least, anyone who thinks that Republicans will over turn Roe v. Wade is fooling themselves.

    Possibly, but we likely have four votes on the Court that would overturn or severely limit Roe. What we know is that Obama has a record of extreme hostility to any abortion restrictions.

    Not to mention that outlawing abortion wouldn’t stop abortions any more than outlawing liquor stopped drinking.

    That’s ridiculous. Abortion restrictions reduce the number of abortions. Does the number ever reach zero? No. Can the number be substantially reduced? Yes. The abortion rate doubled after Roe. Studies have shown that restrictions such as parental consent laws, etc. reduce the number of abortions. Keep in mind, overturning Roe wouldn’t make abortion illegal – it would mean the issue could be addressed legislatively.

    We had illegal abortions in this country, and so many women died that good, thoughtful, caring people, said that a change was needed, and that if something like this was going to happen, it should at least be done safely.

    I recommend reading a history book rather than a NOW pamphlet. If you view abortion as a good, then you are not really the intended audience for the post. In any case, abortion wasn’t illegal everywhere prior to Roe v. Wade; it was left up to the states. Many states had recently relaxed their abortion restriction laws prior to Roe, but some had not. If by ‘good, thoughtful, caring people,’ you mean seven Supreme Court justices, I guess you are entitled to that view. It seems rather uncaring, bad, and less than thoughtful to bar states from trying to protect human life to me, but, again, perspectives differ. Regarding safety, my understanding is that abortion is quite hazardous to one of the two people involved in the procedure.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: