In a nationwide poll conducted shortly after the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on June 24 to overturn Roe v. Wade, the authoritative, non-partisan Pew Research Center found that 57 per cent of Americans disapproved of the ruling. In this same poll, 62 per cent said they believed abortion should be legal “in all or most circumstances.”
In the face of such adverse public opinion, how should pro-life legislators try to save the lives of as many babies in the womb as possible?
To begin with, it is evident that consistently pro-life legislators should make crystal clear that they stand by the truth, no matter how unpopular, that all human life is sacred from conception to natural death and that the deliberate killing of a baby in the womb is a crime that can never be justified.
Granted, on this basis, pro-life politicians could not get elected to the legislature in most jurisdictions in New York State, Massachusetts or, for that matter, Canada, where most voters are so deluded by pro-abortion propaganda that they would not support any consistently pro-life candidate. But so be it. It would be shameful for any pro-life politician to dissemble or change their pro-life convictions in an attempt to gain public office.
Pro-life legislators in states where pro-lifers control the legislature face different challenges. In 2019, pro-life Republicans in Missouri set a good example by taking advantage of their predominance in the state legislature to enact a trigger law contingent upon the reversal of Roe v. Wade that places a complete ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest.
Then, as now, this law was very unpopular. In August, an opinion poll in Missouri found that 75 per cent supported abortion in the case of rape and 79 per cent in the case of incest. Regardless, within one hour after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Dobbs overturning Roe v. Wade, Missouri’s pro-life Republican Governor Mike Parson signed the state’s Right to Life of the Unborn Child Act into law, making Missouri the first of 17 states to effectively ban all abortions in the aftermath of the Dobbs ruling.
Will many, if not most, of Missouri’s pro-life legislators who steadfastly affirmed the sanctity of all human life in defiance of majority public opinion go down to defeat at the next legislative election? That is most unlikely.
Even among pro-choice voters, many do not regard abortion as the most important election issue. Thus, in the August poll of Missouri voters, 50 per cent approved the overall performance of Governor Parson, despite his having signed into law the unpopular bill banning all abortions just two months earlier. In contrast, only 36 per cent of the respondents in this same poll approved the performance of pro-choice President Joe Biden.
Opinion polls in Missouri and elsewhere confirm that while some pro-life legislators are likely to go down to defeat in upcoming elections, few will do so solely or even mainly because of their anti-abortion convictions.
What about pro-life members of a state legislature where the majority of all members supports neither a total ban on abortion nor unrestricted abortion on demand? The Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) in Washington addressed this issue in a recent policy paper entitled “Protecting the Unborn: A Scholars’ Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Political Prudence.” This document was signed by 21 of the most eminent pro-life intellectuals in the United States including the Evangelical theologian Carl R. Trueman and Catholic philosopher Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University.
Among several scenarios addressed in this paper, the scholars consider the case of a legislature where, due to political pressures, the only available choices are to “prohibit elective abortions after eight weeks or do nothing.” Considering that “passing the bill would have the positive effect of banning some elective abortions that would otherwise remain lawful,” the scholars conclude: “voting for the bill can be morally appropriate.”
Pro-lifers can reasonably disagree about the prudence of such a judgment, but all should agree with the insistence of the EPPC scholars that any legislator who backs a pro-life bill that stops short of banning all deliberate abortions should “make clear that they are supporting the bill, despite their objections to all elective abortions and their unsuccessful efforts to make the bill more just, in order to secure the best protections available now.”