Great quote about Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
I think pro-lifers who make short-term, tactical moves to save some lives now until they can save more later are not choosing evil (as some of our perfectionist critics maintain) but are choosing the greatest good possible given current political realities. If I cannot advance the good, I'll move to limit the evil done.
Indeed, the incremental, pragmatic approach has done pretty well so far. We've passed pro-life legislation, installed ostensibly pro-life judges (i.e., strict Constitutionalists), and limited the legislative consequences of abortion on demand. I can't see how someone could reasonably argue that at any time in the last 30 years abortion could have been banned outright. More children are alive today because of the incremental approach. (See, for example, Michael New's research released earlier this month.) In short, the incremental side of the argument has demonstrative progress to show for it.
It gets stickier, however, when the topic turns to voting for less-than-perfect presidential candidates. We've both gone a round or two with the purists on that question and though you and I differ a bit (only a bit, I think) on what's the right thing to do, we more or less agree that if I cannot advance good with my vote, my next goal should be to limit evil in so far as possible given current political realities. (If I'm wrong about our alleged agreement, slap me with a correction!)
My take is that we might differ on the practical question--namely, if it comes down Rudy versus Hillary in 08, does voting Rudy over Hillary (or, over a more desirable, but unelectable third party candidate) actually give us the best shot at limiting at least some of the evil?
For now, let's cross our fingers and hope it doesn't come to that awful choice, but if it does, some pro-lifers say it's wrong in principle to vote for a pro-abortion candidate, even if there were a possible world in which doing so would save lives. I don't think that's your view, but others are convinced they have the moral high ground on what for them is a matter of principle. Indeed, some will stick to their alleged moral principle even if doing so results in horrific consequences for the unborn.
Suppose (warning: hypothetical alert!) it's 2024 and pro-life Republicans are expected to win a veto-proof majority in both houses of Congress. The GOP majority already in power has introduced the "Uniform Right to Life Act" that bans all abortions save those needed for life of the mother. If that weren't enough good news, two liberal SCOTUS justices who support ROE have announced they will retire in 2025,and the GOP nominee has promised to replace them with the likes of now former justices Thomas and Scalia. The new Court would then be 5-4 in favor of conservatives. There's only one hitch: The Republican nominee for President, a wildly popular war hero, supports unrestricted abortion on demand--provided it comes from Congress and not the courts. In fact, while governor of Illinois, he signed the "Woman's Fundamental Right to Abortion Act." As a Presidential candidate, however, he ran on a campaign to overturn judicial activism, especially cases like Roe and Casey which he called "judicial tyranny". Bottom line: He wants abortion returned to the legislative branch so the people get their voice back on the issue. The Democrat, meanwhile, will preserve Roe and only appoint judges who support her view.
On Election Day, what should pro-life conservatives do? A) Vote for the GOP pro-abortion candidate and get a very good shot at reversing Roe AND passing the Uniform Right to Life Act by 2026, thus effectively ending elective abortion in America, B) vote against the pro-abortion GOP nominee, thus preserving principle, C) Vote for unelectable third-party candidate and risk the Democrat winning.
Admittedly, we don't face this kind of choice in the current election cycle, but how far should we press our "principle" when our vote could have been used to save human lives?
When I presented the above hypothetical example to a purist on another blog, she replied that even then she would not vote for the pro-abort presidential candidate.
To which I replied:
Generally speaking, voting for pro-life candidates is a means to an end, not an end in itself. That "end" is ending elective abortion as we know it. If voting for an abortion-choice candidate gets the job done, shouldn't that weigh heavily on how pro-lifers vote?Still, her answer was she wouldn't vote for the pro-abortion candidate.
At the executive level, I agree that scenario is not likely in play this election cycle, but it's possible it one day could be, as my hypothetical example above illustrates.
If I understand you correctly, you said that even if voting for an abortion-choice candidate would almost certainly end abortion, you would not vote for him.
While I appreciate your candor, I fail to see the moral reasoning used to support such a decision. You said you were standing on principle, but what moral principle justifies letting 1.3 million children die annually when we could have saved nearly all of them by voting for the GOP guy who's not pro-life? Remember--the abortion-choice candidate in the case I presented is powerless to stop a congressional pro-life bill effectively ending abortion. At the same time, SCOTUS in my example is now with us thanks to the GOP guy.
So, just to clarify your position, let me change my above scenario slightly. Suppose you have prophetic abilities to see into the future. God has told you that if the abortion-choice candidate for the GOP wins, that result will be the ending of abortion as we know it (via the means I outlined in my above scenario). But He hasn't said if that candidate will prevail or how you should vote. He's just told you what will happen if the GOP candidate does in fact win.
Given you KNOW that should this GOP abortion-choice candidate win, abortion will soon be history, would you still hold to your position? If so, on what moral principle?
As Greg Koukl once put it, the purist in this case is making a point but not making a difference. The non-negotiable "principle" isn't voting for pro-life candidates. It's getting rid of abortion. The principles of the purist are misplaced.
My colleague Melinda Penner goes one step further: "If it's in your power to do good by limiting evil to some extent and you don't, then you are perpetuating evil. If you can stop it and don't, then you're part of the problem not a solution."
Nevertheless, the purists in our blog discussion were convinced I was putting pragmatic concerns over moral ones. But what do they mean by “pragmatic?” I think pragmatism can mean a couple of different things in this case.
1) It could mean I justify bad behavior with pragmatism: "Well, boys will be boys, so let's make sure they use condoms and if their girlfriends get pregnant, lets make sure these boys have money to pay for abortions."
2) But pragmatism can also mean I'm working to achieve the greatest moral good possible given the hand I've been dealt. Unlike the first example, here my overriding concern is not the justification of (or surrender to) an immoral action, but the limiting of that action insofar as possible given the circumstances. In the first example, I've stopped opposing evil (indeed, at some level I'm cooperating with it). In the second, I'm still in the fight for good, doing all that can be done to save as many lives as possible. In this case, it seems the prudential (pragmatic) considerations slip over into the moral category, making it somewhat dicey to separate the two with a clean break.
If it's #2 that you mean, I guess you could say I'm a pragmatist. But make no mistake: I’m not embracing “pragmatism as a philosophical stance. Rather, as Penner points out, my pragmatism
“rests on the objective principle of saving the lives we can. This is very good, solid objective universal ethics. And why should we continue to sacrifice innocent lives when we can save them from waiting for some ideal possible solution we don't know will ever happen?”Well, there's some food for your weekend thought…