by guest writer Andrew Reising
Growing up, There was one issue that dominated politics in my house: abortion. Like in so many pro-life households, when one candidate had a platform that said “pro-life” and the other candidate “supported a woman’s right to choose,” nothing else about the candidates mattered. It was only when both candidates were pro-life or pro-choice that other issues were given serious consideration. (Or, at least that was how it seemed to me; I was a kid, and my parents didn’t discuss every aspect of their political thought process with me.)
Why? Why, for so many people, does this one issue supersede all others combined?
The reason I have heard the most often is the numbers argument. It argues that life issues are the most important issues, and since more lives are lost to abortion than any other life issue, it is more important that all other issues.
“Sure, murder rates with guns are an issue, but do you know how many babies die from abortion?”
There are a lot of potential rebuttals to this, but I am, for the sake of argument, going to concede a few points. For the purpose of this discussion:
- Human life begins at conception.
- The life of an embryo or fetus has the same intrinsic value as the life of any other person.
- The value of the life of an embryo or fetus is greater than the value of the bodily autonomy of the mother, and so cannot be ethically ended unless it is to save the life of the mother.
Let’s assume that pro-lifers are right.
In other words, for the length of this post, I will accept as given that abortion is as bad as pro-lifers believe, ending it is as straightforward and noble a cause as they think it is, and will save more lives than any other change in American society if successful.
But, here is the thing: by bringing the numbers into it, pro-lifers make it seem like, if we elect Republicans, those hundreds of thousands of abortions a year won’t happen. Like the election is a choice between abortions happening or not happening.
Since we’re looking at numbers, let’s look at some more numbers, starting with the Supreme Court:
The court that decided in Roe v. Wade had 6 justices appointed by Republicans and only 3 appointed by Democrats.
The court that decided Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the case that confirmed and expanded abortion rights, had 8 justices appointed by Republicans and only 1 appointed by Democrats.
In fact, Republican-appointed justices have been in the majority for nearly the entire 48 years since Roe v. Wade. The only time when they didn’t have a majority was the year between Scalia’s death and Gorsuch’s appointment, when the court was split 4-4.
Next, let’s look at the presidency, since that is the big election that everyone focuses on:
We have had Republican presidents for 28 of the 48 years since Roe v. Wade.
Next, let’s look at Congress:
Republicans have spent about 15 years of the past 48 in control of both houses of Congress. And of those 15, 7 of them were concurrent with a Republican president.
Abortion has been on the decline in the US for decades. It has actually declined more under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents. I am familiar with the argument that those sharper declines have more to do with efforts by Republican-controlled state governments to limit access to abortion than with, say, Obama’s efforts to expand access to healthcare. I don’t know which had more of an effect. But at the very least, we can say with certainty that electing Democratic pro-choice presidents doesn’t cause the number of abortions to increase.
Republican Presidents, Republican-controlled Congress, and Republican-appointed Supreme Court Justices have never made any serious attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade in the past 48 years. Democratic pro-choice Presidents have not had spikes in the abortion rate under their tenure.
Will voting for Republicans actually save unborn lives?
So back to the original point: How many abortions will be prevented in the next two years by voting for Republican candidates who say they are pro-life? Because, if we are playing a numbers game, let’s talk about the actual difference in number of lives.
SCOTUS won’t overturn Roe v. Wade. That has been a carrot that political activists have been dangling over the heads of pro-lifers for decades, and voting on the basis that, “They really, really super will do it this time, pinky promise,” is a fool’s hope.
And even if they did, that wouldn’t end abortion. It wouldn’t even end legal abortion. It would just kick the issue back to the states to decide. Some states would use the opportunity to outlaw or restrict abortion, but many would not. So we are still not talking abortion going away.
And has a Republican-controlled Congress ever used its mandate to pass a law that would restrict abortion at a federal level? Once: The partial-birth abortion ban under George W. Bush. This ban applied to a fraction of a percent of abortions in this country. The rest of the time, Republicans in Congress use that kind of mandate to pass tax cuts for the rich and roll back regulations. Restricting abortion isn’t their priority.
So how many lives would we actually save by voting in Republicans at the federal level?
And how many lives would we save by voting in Democrats?
Since March, President Trump has used Title 42 of the US Code to deport nearly 200,000 migrants seeking asylum without hearings.
“Whenever the Surgeon General determines that by reason of the existence of any communicable disease in a foreign country there is serious danger of the introduction of such disease into the United States, and that this danger is so increased by the introduction of persons or property from such country that a suspension of the right to introduce such persons and property is required in the interest of the public health, the Surgeon General, in accordance with regulations approved by the President, shall have the power to prohibit, in whole or in part, the introduction of persons and property from such countries or places as he shall designate in order to avert such danger, and for such period of time as he may deem necessary for such purpose.”
Is there a valid, health-related reason for this mass deportation of asylum seekers? We are in the middle of a global pandemic.
Still, there are a couple important things to note:
First, Trump’s senior advisor Stephen Miller has been looking for a reason to restrict immigration with Title 42 since the beginnings of Trump’s presidency. He unsuccessfully attempted it twice before the coronavirus pandemic, and was constantly looking for other reasons to attempt it. It is clear he saw it as a way to use public health to restrict immigration, rather than a way to protect public health.
Second, on March 13, when Title 42 was invoked, and the associated deportations began, there were hardly any COVID cases in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, the places where most of the asylum seekers on the southern border are from. Even now, the COVID cases per capita in all three of those countries and Mexico fall far below the cases per capita in the US.
The communicable disease is already here, and it is here in more force than in any of the countries the asylum seekers are coming from. Deporting them doesn’t keep the coronavirus out of the US. Those 200,000 deportations were done for political reasons, and public health was just an excuse.
Now, not all 200,000 of those people who were deported will die when they return home, but some will, and the rest will live in fear for their lives.
And that was all due to Trump using a presidential power in a way that was never intended, and I can confidently say that neither of his opponents or even most Republicans would have used that power in that same way.
But the people who have lost their lives or who are at risk of losing their lives because of Trump’s approach to immigration and asylum seekers are not the only lives that could have been saved if we had had a different president this year.
A recent study came out saying that somewhere between 130,000 and 210,000 of the COVID-related deaths in the US were avoidable.
Now, just because we had another president wouldn’t mean that all of those avoidable deaths would have been avoided. But another president likely wouldn’t have dismantled the pandemic response team in 2018. Or openly politicize a public health emergency instead of treating it as a problem that transcends politics that we need to come together and fix. Or regularly spout off misinformation that contradicts what the actual health officials are saying, confusing people about what they should do and how seriously they needed to take the pandemic. So I feel confident in saying that we would have had tens of thousands fewer COVID-related deaths this year.
And finally, we have something that Trump has been trying to do his whole first term, but has not yet succeeded at: overturning the ACA.
At first, his plan was to repeal it and replace it with another system for healthcare coverage, but when it became clear that Republicans couldn’t agree on what a replacement should look like, they decided to just repeal the ACA without anything to replace it. They have not succeeded, so the Trump administration has turned to the courts to help him dismantle it.
Now, I want to acknowledge a few things:
First, the ACA has problems, and some of them are really big. Those problems need to be fixed. But none of those problems are fixed by repealing the ACA without a replacement lined up.
Second, it is possible that Trump and the Republicans will not be successful in repealing or otherwise dismantling the ACA over the next 4 years. But I think it is important to note that doing so has been something that they have been actively exploring through all available channels for years, so I think such an outcome is several orders of magnitude more likely than that the court overturns Roe or that Congress passes a law restricting abortions.
There are other ways that Trump’s presidency has cost and will continue to cost people their lives, many of which would change with a different president, especially a president who is not part of the grotesque goblin version of the Republican Party that we’ve gotten under the leadership of Trump and McConnell.
If human life is the thing that you value most, you have to do more than just look at which candidate claims to be pro-life. You have to look at their records and assess how the policies they have actually enacted have valued human life. And Trump’s policies and those of many of his Republican allies have repeatedly shown a reckless disregard for human life.
So vote to preserve human life. Or admit that some other value drives your vote. But valuing human life does not force you to vote for Trump.