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The GOP’s abortion evasion

In the defense of life, morality comes first, politics second

Republican presidential candidates stand on stage before a Republican presidential primary debate on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee. Associated Press/Photo by Morry Gash

The GOP’s abortion evasion

Wednesday night’s Republican debate had all the flare and fireworks one would expect. What I didn’t expect was the troubling and unsatisfying answers that Republican candidates gave on abortion.

Now, before I identify what was said on Wednesday night and the problems with the positions that were spoken, let me acknowledge something upfront: The pro-life movement in America is in a state of existential crisis. There is no consensus on what policies to pursue after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. To make matters even worse, when abortion has gone on the ballot in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, pro-abortion forces have won each time and won decisively, at that.

The discomfort and electoral volatility of the issue set the context for what was said by the Republican candidates.

In general (without quoting each individual response), what we got from the eight Republican candidates on stage was some version of the following: “I’m pro-life and we should pursue policies that limit access to abortion, which is why I would sign either a six-week, 12-week, or 15-week ban.”

Now, on the surface, this is not a totally incorrect answer. Since abortion is a moral evil, limiting abortion is obviously better than unlimited access to abortion. What’s missing from the responses, though should serve as an alarm to Christians. Whether you accept incrementalist strategies to prevent abortion or would call yourself an “abolitionist,” you must agree that it is never just or right to take innocent life. Period. This is an inviolable principle that stems from our belief that every single human being is made in God’s image. It’s a principle evident within our Declaration: The right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” assumes the existence of one’s life that makes possible the pursuit of liberty and happiness.

While the Republican candidates might understand the political winds facing abortion, what they did not address with any adequacy is the underlying moral principle. Allowing for abortion whether at six weeks, 12 weeks, or 15 weeks is to still allow for abortion. Thus, watching Republicans make peace with murder at politically allowable stages of human development is not a profile in moral courage.

Whether you kill someone at 12 weeks in the womb, or you wait to kill a person at 36 months outside the womb, you’ve killed the same person. 

I understand political reality, but moral principle is moral principle. We should never take innocent human life. That should be the beginning of any statement when it comes to abortion. If we do not state the moral principle, what we allow to happen—intentionally or unintentionally—is a moral concession on the most foundational truth. We need to contend for the equal dignity of the pre-born human being as the born human being. The logic is simple: Whether you kill someone at 12 weeks in the womb, or you wait to kill a person at 36 months outside the womb, you’ve killed the same person.

Republican candidates must take moral truth as their starting point, not pragmatic politics. If I were coaching the candidates on how to respond on the abortion question with serious moral consideration combined with realpolitik, I would say this:

“Abortion is first a moral issue. As I understand what morality demands of us, we should never take innocent life. Now, I also understand that this is a political issue where people disagree with me. Until the Supreme Court rightly protects the pre-born under the 14th Amendment, we have to act shrewdly within constitutional parameters to save as many lives as possible. So, as president, here’s what I would do: Working backwards from the ultimate goal of seeing abortion totally abolished, I would do whatever is in my power to limit abortion as much as I possibly can and I would also work with whatever majorities I can muster to limit abortion as much as is politically possible. But we cannot give up the most important principle: Life is precious and belongs to God, so we dare not take it ourselves.”

And on the off chance that someone from their campaigns reads this: Feel free to take my words!

At least with this, they aren’t ceding the moral principle like most GOP candidates did on Wednesday night.

Politics is the art of the possible, and I embrace a realist approach to limiting and eventually abolishing abortion, but Wednesday night’s evasion of moral argument was deeply sad, especially for the ostensibly “pro-life” party.

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew is the managing editor of WORLD Opinions and serves as associate professor of Christian ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. He resides with his family in Louisville, Ky.

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