Why Abortion is a (the?) Priority Issue for the Political Left
Typical progressive issues have liabilities these days, but abortion, with its connection to ‘limitless autonomy,’ is proving to be a winning campaign focus for Biden and his party.
Last week on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Joe Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Quentin Fulks, was asked what the president’s top priority would be if reelected. His reply: “First of all: Roe. … The president has been adamant that we need to restore Roe. It is unfathomable that women today wake up in a country with less rights than their ancestors had years ago.”
According to Politico, President Biden’s pro-choice agenda is “the strongest abortion rights platform of any general election candidate,” and the president seems to sense that this is among the very few issues trending in his favor. Of a recent Texas Supreme Court case in which a woman was denied a medical exception for an abortion, the president declared: “No woman should be forced to go to court or flee her home state just to receive the health care she needs. … This should never happen in America, period.”
A Heightened Emphasis on Abortion
Judging by the string of pro-life legislative defeats, most recently in the otherwise red Ohio and Virginia, many Americans agree with the president. One Politico analysis concluded, “When abortion rights are on the ballot, they win with voters across the political spectrum—though they don’t always boost Democratic candidates on ballots advocating for them.” In an imminent presidential election that promises to be especially contentious, the received wisdom among progressive candidates is this: Vow to preserve, at all costs, the so-called “right to choose,” and it’s likely that voters will choose me.
Of course, this reveals as much about the rest of the progressive agenda as it does about “reproductive rights.” Immigration and the southern border? Ukraine and Israel? Housing prices? Inflation? LGBTQ issues? The mental health crisis? These pressing issues are political liabilities for the president right now, so all the attention is on abortion.
It is more than a little ironic to see the heightened emphasis on abortion, considering how often Christians were accused of being “one-issue” voters. Post-Roe, left-wing politicians are forced to be more honest about abortion’s central role in their political project.
A Vision of Limitless Autonomy
And make no mistake, abortion is central not only to a progressive political agenda, but to the vision of “freedom” and selfhood this agenda has enshrined in American law and culture. In so many ways, abortion symbolizes the worldview in which autonomy and self-expression are the highest possible values. It’s the logical endpoint of the pursuit of freedom from constraints, devoid of any notion of freedom for a created purpose.
In this view, connections to other human beings — including the most intimate and dependent connection of all — are only worthwhile insofar as they help citizens achieve that vision of limitless autonomy. If such connections get in the way of our freedoms, we should be free to sever them, no matter who suffers.
This deadly logic has become increasingly obvious in recent years as imaging technology in neo-natal care has made the humanity of preborn babies undeniable. Quite a few pro-abortion activists have responded by swallowing the proverbial poison pill and giving up on pretending children in the womb are “clumps of cells.” So what if they’re human? These activists retort. Their death is an acceptable price for women to maintain absolute control over their own bodies and futures! If our vision of freedom requires people to die, so be it.
The Pro-Life Argument Remains Unchanged
Still, abortion is heavily restricted or banned in 24 states, mostly as a direct result of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, and there are a few hopeful signs that the public hasn’t fully bought the logic of the extreme activists. For example, pro-abortion candidates, at least on the national level, still feel the need to pretend they find abortion distasteful. Last year, President Biden prefaced his support of abortion by saying, “I’m a practicing Catholic. I’m not big on abortion.” Also, abortion is still typically defended in public, not as an absolute, on-demand right, but as a necessary accommodation in sad but rare circumstances like rape, incest, and the life of the mother. These “wedge” arguments are deeply flawed and do not change the fact that intentionally taking an innocent human life is always wrong. However, their continued use indicates that Americans aren’t quite ready to stomach the unrestricted killing of little people we find inconvenient.
Ultimately, the pro-life argument remains unchanged. The preborn are innocent human beings, made in God’s image, and no one should be able to take their lives without cause. In fact, the most basic purpose of government is to protect its citizens’ right to life, and if the government fails to do this, it is failing in the most basic way. Simply put, if killing babies in the womb is not wrong, the very concept of “rights” is a joke.
The president’s eagerness to make abortion his top reelection priority is deeply significant, and it would be a mistake to dismiss the statement as mere politics. This issue has taken on symbolic, moral, and spiritual weight for our nation, and it will continue to be a bitterly fought battleground. Despite setbacks and disappointments, we can agree with the president on one thing. De-prioritizing this issue is not an option. The stakes — for our society and its most vulnerable members — are simply too high.
John Stonestreet serves as president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He’s a sought-after author and speaker on areas of faith and culture, theology, worldview, education and apologetics.
Shane Morris is a senior writer at the Colson Center and host of the Upstream podcast as well as cohost of the BreakPoint podcast.
Originally published on Breakpoint.org: BreakPoint Commentaries. Republished with permission of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.