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Hey, GOP: Don’t run from the abortion fight

Pro-life candidates can win if they highlight the other side’s extremism

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks to reporters about the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act. Associated Press/Photo by Mariam Zuhaib

Hey, GOP: Don’t run from the abortion fight

This week, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced federal legislation that would ban abortions after 15 weeks. In response, most major media labeled this an election-year blunder, sure to drive away moderate suburban voters. This is expected, of course, because coverage of abortion is where mainstream journalists reveal their most cherished biases. But more distressing for conservatives is the reaction of many GOP leaders and congressional candidates.

Politico reports “The GOP scattered in response. ... It was hard to find Republican officials and operatives who would defend the proposal.” Another Politico report found that the South Carolina senator’s colleagues “were highly perplexed at Graham’s decision to introduce a new abortion ban—more conservative than his previous proposals—at a precarious moment for the party.” Many Senate candidates running in battleground states, while declaring their pro-life positions, nevertheless eschewed the legislation, preferring the issue be handled by the states. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, typically a shrewd political actor, demurred when pressed on the legislation.

It is true that the reversal of Roe in the Dobbs case did allow the issue of abortion to be decided by the states, but while states-rights arguments were crucial to the Court decision, they are not at the heart of the pro-life movement’s defense of the unborn. If we believe that life begins at conception, if we believe that unborn life is human, then we should seek to protect it everywhere. Including in federal legislation. Punting the issue to the states alone is not enough.

The historic reversal of Roe this summer seems to have energized a left-wing base and may motivate some moderate voters to go to the polls. And yet multiple surveys show that banning abortion after 15 weeks has wide support among the American people. GOP candidates shouldn’t run away from this federal proposal but should use this opportunity to highlight the extremism of the Democratic Party, which refuses restrictions on abortion at any level of pregnancy.

All the proposed ban does is put U.S. law on equal footing with countries in Europe. Let’s not forget that the previous Democratic president, Barack Obama, opposed a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks and that Democrats opposed, two years in a row, a bill that would have required health care for babies who survive abortion. And our current president, Joe Biden, urged passing of the most extreme abortion law in history—the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would obliterate every abortion restriction in every state.

Democrats opposed, two years in a row, a bill that would have required health care for babies who survive abortion.

It is clear that when it comes to abortion, the extremism is not on the side of those protecting life, but on the side of those advocating for abortion on demand up until birth, a position that puts them out of step with many developed nations. Purportedly pro-life candidates, rather than being on the defensive, should point out the indefensible positions of their opponents and ask them to defend taking the life of an innocent child after 15 weeks. This bill represents an opportunity to sift out those who just talk the pro-life cause to garner votes from those who will actually spend political capital to advance pro-life causes.

Pro-life activists are a crucial voting block that has worked to elect Republican candidates across the country, not out of a desire to only support one party, but because the GOP has long been the only home for those who see life in the womb. Pro-life voters understand the complexity of abortion politics and know that we must work tirelessly to build a consensus among the American people to outlaw abortion completely. Sadly, we have much work to do.

Candidates shouldn’t be cavalier when talking abortion and should be intentional about affirming care for women in crisis. They should demonstrate compassion for the difficult decisions that many young women face. Contrary to much misinformation, pro-life laws have broad exceptions for cases in which the physical life of the mother is in danger. Yet this is an issue where pro-life candidates can win, if they are both wise and courageous.

The fight for the sanctity of unborn human life, like every justice movement, is a long one. But we must not grow weary. We must not stop working to persuade Americans, and we must hold our pro-life politicians accountable to fulfill their promises.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His forthcoming book is Agents of Grace. He is also a bestselling author of several other books, including The Original Jesus, The Dignity Revolution, The Characters of Christmas, The Characters of Easter, and A Way With Words and the host of a popular weekly podcast, The Way Home. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College, has studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Angela have four children.

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