Saturday, August 6, 2016

Why Rachel Held Evans is Wrong to Tell Christians to Vote for Hillary Clinton, Part I [Seth Gruber]

(This is the first in a three-part series responding to an article by Rachel Held Evans. This series is a joint effort between Seth Gruber and Clinton Wilcox.)



Rachel Held Evans, a Christian blogger and author, recently published a post on her blog entitled “So you’re thinking of voting for a pro-choice candidate” (we encourage you to read her blog post in its entirety before reading our response) in which she encourages Christians to cast their vote for Hillary Clinton. Her main argument is that:


Since abortion rates have dropped to their lowest numbers during the last eight years under a democratic president, and because democratic social policies do more to create a culture with less unwanted pregnancies, Christians should vote for Hillary, whose policy proposals will help address the underlying causes of unwanted pregnancies and continue to decrease the abortion rate in America.
Let’s be clear: This response article is not pro-Trump. By critiquing Rachel’s article and arguments in support of voting for Hillary, we are not tacitly supporting Trump. We are setting out to do what our title suggests: giving reasons for why Rachel Held Evans is wrong to tell Christians to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Evans offers four main points to back up her argument that Christians should vote for Hillary (who will do a better job at keeping the abortion rate lower by addressing the underlying causes of unwanted pregnancies):
1. Voting pro-choice is not the same as voting for abortion
2. Criminalizing (making abortion illegal) abortion won’t necessarily reduce abortions
3. Pro-life advocates should support, rather than oppose, efforts to help low-income families care for
their children
4. We must support efforts to make contraception more accessible and affordable if we want to
dramatically reduce the abortion rate in this country.
Before we address each of Evans’ main points, we must take issue with her main argument. Evans says that, “In the eight years since we’ve had a pro-choice president, the abortion rate in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest since 1973”.  There are three things we must examine here.
First, is this claim true? Is the abortion rate at a record low in the United States? Evans provides no evidence or proof to back up such a claim. The Guttmacher Institute reports that this is indeed the case, so perhaps this should have been Evans’ source. Yet, in this same article we read:
While the overall abortion rate continued to decline, the proportion of abortions that were early medication procedures continued to increase. An estimated 239,400 early medication abortions were performed in 2011, representing 23% of all nonhospital abortions, an increase from 17% in 2008. The study estimated that 59% of all known abortion providers offer this service.

An “early medication abortion” refers to an abortifacient pill that is taken orally which induces an abortion. So according to the Guttmacher Institute, there has been a huge rise in abortions due to abortifacients and those numbers don’t seem to be included in the overall abortion rate. Furthermore, Guttmacher Institute admits that, “early medication abortion has become an integral part of abortion care” (Abortion Incidence and Access to Services In the United States, 2008), so to suggest that the abortion rate is at record lows in the United States is to only acknowledge and account for the number of surgical abortions performed. But given that the CDC reports that 16.5 percent of the estimated 1.2 million abortions that take place annually in the United States involve the mifepristone drug or RU-486, it is safe to say that the annual abortion rate is much higher than Guttmacher would lead us to believe.



Second, Evans is guilty of the post hoc ergo propter hoc [1] fallacy (correlation doesn’t prove causation). Even if it’s true that the annual abortion rate in America has hit record lows under the Obama administration, this in no way proves that it was BECAUSE of the Obama presidency over the last eight years that abortion rates are at record lows. We have good reason to believe that the drop in abortion rates is actually due to the pro-life laws that have been enacted over the last decade.


Michael New, PH.d. (assistant professor at the University of Alabama) published a study on the impact of U.S. antiabortion legislation and found that informed consent, parental involvement, and public funding restriction laws all helped decrease abortion rates. Informed consent laws may include a counseling visit prior to obtaining an abortion, specific information about development in the womb, or even viewing photos of an unborn baby’s development. Such laws may result in a 3-7 percent decrease in the abortion rate. Parental involvement laws decrease abortion rates from anywhere between 13 to 42 percent. And according to the study, 37% of women who were abortion-minded ended up carrying to term when public funding was not available.

If Rachel Evans is going to draw a correlation between states of affairs, such as the Obama administration and the significant drop in the abortion rate, she needs to prove causation between the two.

Third, Evans wrongly portrays the pro-life movement’s goal. While we certainly celebrate declines in the abortion rate (if this is indeed the case), that is not our ultimate goal. Pro-life people are working to make abortion unthinkable with the ultimate goal of making the killing of innocent unborn humans illegal. Even if pro-choice presidents and legislators were responsible for a short-term decline in abortion rates, our ultimate goals are different. So if we were to stick with pro-choice presidents, assuming Evans is right, we might have short-term success but our ultimate goal will never be met, which means that looking at the big picture, we’ll actually be losing more lives than saving.

Now that's we've examined Evans' basic presuppositions in writing her article, our next response will engage with her first two arguments.

[1] Post hoc ergo propter hoc” is Latin for “after this, therefore because of this.” The fallacy is made when you argue a cause and effect relationship between two events without drawing a link between them.

10 comments:

  1. Look forward to your future posts in this series.

    I wonder how many abortions occur overseas due to US sponsored programs, and what impact that would make on her own position on its own terms; my thought it, sure abortions have decreased here, but are they increasing elsewhere due to US influence?

    I understand that in some sense the cause of abortion is, among other desires or stresses, economic hardship. However, that alone does not cause abortion; it is often not sufficient by itself to get someone to kill someone. If, after all, you take your unborn child as a person to whom you owe an obligation, you won't kill it; at least, you'd be less likely to do so. (I think that addressing both is important.)Thus if the law and social groups can teach people this view, they would be less likely to kill their unborn.

    I found this quote from her post interesting:

    "The fact that a woman’s body naturally rejects dozens of fertilized eggs in her lifetime raises questions about where we draw the line regarding the personhood of a zygote. Do we count all those “natural abortions” as deaths? When does personhood begin—at fertilization? implantation? the presence of brainwaves? the second trimester? There is disagreement among Christians about this, (and historically, even among evangelicals), so is it really my place, or the government's job, to impose my beliefs on people of all faiths and convictions? If abortion is criminalized, should every miscarriage be investigated by police? Should in vitro fertilization be outlawed?"

    I've seen these answered or addressed so many times in the literature on the subject, so I search her blog to see if she mentions these authors in any posts. I couldn't find any. It seems that she is mistakenly conflating the psychological complexity with its moral complexity. In regard to the latter, I don't think its that complex.

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    1. I find it disturbing that a purportedly pro-life Christian is now utilizing such pro-abortion arguments for her own.

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  2. "Pro-life people are working to make abortion unthinkable with the ultimate goal of making the killing of innocent unborn humans illegal."

    This seems backwards to me. Suppose you had to choose between a society in which abortion was outlawed and still occurred, or one in which it was legal but didn't occur (and I know this is a false choice, but it's a thought exercise). I'd go for the latter every time. The ultimate goal is to stop the taking of human life.

    (I apologize if this has been submitted multiple times, but I'm having a lot of trouble getting the comment form to work.)

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    1. In actuality, you can work for both, but obviously it would be hard to make it unthinkable in our world without making it illegal.

      As an addition to your thought experiment, you might add " . . . where it was legal but didn't occur because it was universally considered immoral" - as opposed to '. . . it was never done because there was no incentive to do it.'

      I would say that my ideal is that it is both never done and illegal. But the practical telos is that it is illegal (which is to say, the rights of the unborn are protected) and hardly done.

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    2. Because making things illegal is such an effective strategy, right?

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  3. > As an addition to your thought experiment, you might add " . . . where it was legal but didn't occur because it was universally considered immoral" - as opposed to '. . . it was never done because there was no incentive to do it.'


    I think fear is what drives most of the support for abortion. If people didn't worry that they or a loved one might "need" an abortion some day, the number of people who believe--because they have to--that it's moral would be greatly reduced.

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    1. Hmm I think this brings up an interesting point about autonomy and "choice" when you speak if "needing" an abortion.

      It's always slightly confused me- is a woman really "choosing" an abortion if she is continuously trying to abort her own pregnant- let's say with a knitting needle or some other crude deadly method.IS it really a "choice" if a woman is in the hospital refusing to eat food because she is not granted an abortion (happened in Ireland).this seems to me almost an automatic response for the suicidal or insane minded woman to take - to protect her own sanity and life.

      The she "needs" an abortion is definitely what ppl get very concerned with.

      And unfortunately, the pl movement doesn't take their concerns seriously.

      Ppl ARE interested in the tough cases that pl legislation with no doubt bring about.

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    2. I'm assuming a rape would be the most common cause of this distress, and an understandable one at that. (Any emotional distress from a life-threatening pregnancy I'm just subsuming under threat to the mother's life; if abortions in those cases are justified (which depends on factors such as the level of risk, and the type of abortion to be performed), it is not so because she is in distress.) I assume that because of this desire she likely intends for a dead child (which is not to say that this is her main intention), or at least an end to the pregnancy (which would result in a dead child, even if that is not her intent). However, the child still has a right to life and the mother still has parental obligations to him. These, I think preclude the permissibility of abortion even in hard cases like those you've mentioned.

      Consider this: If a mother got stranded on some island, where food was plentiful for her, since she could climb the trees, but out of reach for her five year old, who was conceived from a rape, she would still have to provide for her child. Now imagine that for some reason she has had flashbacks to the rape and thus is in distress over her child, what's more, she has had trouble bonding with the child anyway. Her distress gets worse and after a few days it reaches the point that she does not want to be with the child, because her distress is the same as those women you've mentioned. The only way to effect this end is either to let the child starve or kill him. Would she be justified in letting her child die or killing him directly? I think not. How, then, could a woman in such distress as you mention be justified in killing her child via abortion?

      I also would disagree with the description that such women need abortions, is the abortion in cases of rape, going to solve all or even most of one's emotional problems? In most cases no, and in any event it would be hard to say that it would, even if it would have. What the women needs is support, financially, if need be, emotionally, spiritually (at least if she is herself religous), from friends and family, and professional help. We should keep in mind the principle that we do not harm person B to help person A. It is also helpful to keep in mind that such women should not be loathed (at least not for wanting an abortion), or viewed with disgust.

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  4. It's not fair to equate the morning-after pill with abortion. Firstly, it is not clear that it actually has any form of post-fertilization effect at all. See, for example:

    http://lti-blog.blogspot.ca/2014/01/be-careful-out-there-when-discussion.html

    Also, the morning-after pill is not nearly as effective as originally thought (which is probably related to the lack of post-fertilization effect). Over the past 20 years, the conventional wisdom has gone from "miracle drug that will end unplanned pregnancy once and for all" to "it's probably better than nothing" to "completely useless for women over 165 pounds". So it's doubtful that emergency contraception is the reason the abortion rate is as low as it is.

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    1. Hi, Anonymous. You are correct, and LTI's official position is that we don't want to overstate what certain contraceptives do. That was an error, and I'll correct it in the article. Thanks for catching that.

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