Not too long ago, abortion moderates ruled the political landscape. After solidifying their respective positions on Roe v. Wade, Republicans and Democrats spent a few decades seeking to woo those who didn’t like the extreme-sounding idea of banning the procedure outright but found a complete lack of restrictions equally unsettling.
Attempting to convince the Goldilocks vote that their position was perfectly reasonable, Republicans identified as pro-life, but noted they believed in exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Likewise, Democrats adopted the Clinton mantra that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Republicans were opposed to abortion, but wanted to tell you all the times it should take place. Democrats wanted abortion legal, but didn’t want it to happen. That’s six one way, half a dozen the other for an abortion moderate.
Each side has been singing a different tune lately. During the first Republican presidential debate, Sen. Marco Rubio visibly bristled at the suggestion that he supports rape and incest exceptions, a position held by every Republican nominee since Reagan. Likewise, when Hillary Clinton was recently asked whether she favored any restrictions on abortion, she couldn’t name one, not even a federal ban on late-term abortions such as the one Senate Democrats blocked last Tuesday. Clinton, it seems, has traded the “safe, legal, and rare” mantra for the battle hymn of the leftist radicals, of abortion on demand and without apology.
One could make the argument that, typical of primary season, both Republican and Democrat candidates are appealing to their respective bases, but that only strengthens the point. Far more vociferously than in the past, the Republican base is telling those who seek the nomination, “You will ban all abortions.” The Democrat base, on the other hand, is saying to its suitors, “You will celebrate all abortions.”
What happened to those from each party who simply said that abortion is an ugly business, but one we’re stuck with? Why is there no place on the Left or Right for those who say that not all abortions are created equal? What happened to the abortion moderates?
Each Side’s Ace of Spades
To understand the moderate position on abortion, and why it’s doomed to disappear from political discourse, imagine the competing abortion worldviews as two different forms of a card game. Pro-lifers are playing by the rules, formed by natural law and reproductive science respectively, that no one has the right to take an innocent life and that life begins at conception. Because of this, the right to life is the ace of spades. It always trumps the right to end innocent life, even if that innocent life was conceived without the mother’s consent.
Abortion advocates, however, have designed their game with the presupposition that bodily autonomy is the ace of spades that any amount of fetal development cannot defeat.
Moderates, however, want to insert themselves into each side’s game and change the rules into a scenario where trump is determined by comparing abortion to an unwanted pregnancy and deciding which one is sadder. For abortion moderates, why does support for abortion drop the further into a pregnancy a fetus gets? Because the more a child develops, for many people the sadder it becomes to take that child’s life, giving less power to the emotional status of the woman carrying a baby she doesn’t want.
Why do pro-life-leaning moderates favor exceptions in cases of rape and incest? Because, in that scenario, the emotional trauma of being reminded of the terrible thing that happened to you every time you look at your growing belly is so high that it trumps the normally unbeatable right of a child to live. For the abortion moderate, empathy is the ace of spades and whichever position has more of it in a given scenario is the winner.
Why Abortion Subjectivity Will Lose
The problem with the moderate approach to abortion, however, is that subjectivity always loses to objectivity in the end. If you join the liberal poker table and accept its objective presupposition that bodily autonomy is the supreme right of humankind, you will eventually quit playing Calvinball and rationalize any abortion-related discomfort because, if a woman always has the right to do whatever she wants with her body, then it doesn’t matter if what she wants to do with her body takes the life of an innocent child.
Modern abortion advocates have no problem making this argument. It doesn’t matter if the woman’s offspring can feel pain or recoil from the abortionist’s scissors or even survive outside the womb. The woman gets what she wants. Them’s the rules.
Likewise, if you embrace the objective presuppositions of the pro-life side, you can spend one or two generations inventing wild cards and rationalizing why it’s acceptable to take innocent life simply because that life was conceived through an act of violence. But by the third generation or so, those who believe the foundation of the game is the inherent value of all human life won’t continue hacking away at that foundation simply because the violated mother is an empathetic figure.
This is why the Right will continue to grow righter, the Left will grow lefter, and the moderates will grow fewer as Roe v. Wade recedes further behind us. The moderate position on abortion can’t survive a long-term cultural battle because the moderate position on abortion isn’t actually a position. It’s the deliberate avoidance of a position, an exercise in running away from the logical conclusions that all of us must eventually draw from the principles we accept.
And we must accept one worldview or the other. If the greatest right in the world is the right to life, then abortion is evil, indefensible in all circumstances*, and should be outlawed. If, however, the greatest right in the world is a woman’s freedom to control her uterus at all times, then abortion is good, empowering, and deserving of celebration.
When People Celebrate Abortion
What happens when people celebrate abortion? Abortion moderates get very uncomfortable. Last week, the Twitter hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion appeared, encouraging women to boast of how their abortions liberated them, and many were happy to oblige. Here are a few samples:
I’ve had 2 abortions. I don’t have to justify or explain them to anybody. My life is more valuable than a potential life. #shoutyourabortion
— Clementine Ford (@clementine_ford) September 21, 2015
Abortion is a medical procedure, not a moral quagmire. It is more dangerous to give birth than it is to have an abortion. #shoutyourabortion
— Clementine Ford (@clementine_ford) September 21, 2015
I’ve never wanted to have children, so I had an abortion. I’m thriving, without guilt, without shame, without apologies. #ShoutYourAbortion
— favianna rodriguez (@favianna) September 21, 2015
Many responses to the hashtag campaign, however, were observations like this:
I’m pro choice but I think #ShoutYourAbortion is stupid. It’s a deeply personal and emotional thing for most women. Why shout about it?
— Phantom Socks (@Rinaxas) September 22, 2015
In other words, the moderate voice says, “I guess abortion should be legal, but abortion isn’t something we should celebrate.” An abortion moderate says this because he recognizes that abortion isn’t a morally neutral medical procedure like an appendectomy, for which no one need be guilt-ridden. He realizes that abortion is a procedure that begins with an unborn child living in a mother’s womb and ends with that child dead in a medical waste bin. No matter how he may justify preserving its legality, the abortion moderate recognizes that abortion itself is sad, heartbreaking, shameful.
If You Don’t Celebrate Abortion…
If abortion is not something to celebrate, the objective presupposition that leads people to celebrate abortion is proven false. If we cringe as people boast of preserving bodily autonomy by ending human life, this shows we know and believe that the right to life is, in fact, the ace of spades, that it should trump all other factors in addressing an unwanted pregnancy.
Quite simply, you can’t remain an abortion moderate. You have to join one card game or the other. If you’re sickened by people speaking of dismembering their offspring as though they’d been liberated from slavery, you’ve already chosen your side.
So come join your fellow radicals who believe that precious, God-given life begins at conception, regardless of how conception occurred. Come join the throng of lunatics who would give up their plans for a vacation home to help raise an unexpected grandchild because they told their teenage daughter she didn’t need to accept the quick, easy, and deadly fix offered by Planned Parenthood.
Come join the raging extremists who would tell a woman who has been raped, “Your child deserves to be protected from violence, just as you did, and that’s why we’ll love you both, feed you both, clothe you both, and welcome both of you into our homes.” Come align yourself with the war-on-womeneering priests and pastors who will hear the tearful confessions of women who can no longer shout away their guilt over their abortions, and hear those anti-choice zealots say in response, “You don’t need to cry any more because, in His dying words, Jesus shouted your abortion into the grave and shouted His forgiveness onto you.”
*If you have raised the “what about the life of the mother” exception for abortion, this article from Lila Rose is quite helpful.