by Aimee Murphy
The pro-life movement began largely in left-leaning Democrat circles. The early pro-life activists’ understanding of abortion as an act of violence and their goal to abolish it was framed as a progressive stance, which heavily influenced the pre-Roe and early post-Roe culture of protest within the ranks of the movement. So when Democrats added support for abortion to their party platform in 1976, many pro-lifers felt like the Democratic party had abandoned them. Meanwhile, Republican leaders like Jesse Helms and Phyllis Schlafly convinced the GOP to adopt an anti-abortion platform.
Because of the preeminence of the abortion issue, many former Democrats began to vote GOP; they understood that the sheer number of children killed by abortion could merit a change in their vote. However, while some were holding their noses and voting against their normal party loyalties because of the lives lost to abortion, others shifted loyalties entirely, toeing the GOP party line on everything: foreign policy, economics, the death penalty, workers’ rights, and more. Along the way, it seems to me, many former pro-life Democrats stopped caring about social justice and the rights of the marginalized. Many of these former Democrats simply became Republicans, and as a result, the generations growing up since 1976 have really only known the anti-abortion cause as a “conservative” political issue.
In my opinion, this political alliance has really done a number on our witness as pro-lifers. People watching from the sidelines of the “mushy middle” have seen cruelty and lack of care for the poor (who are often more likely to seek abortion) as synonymous with the anti-abortion effort. Now, in the era of Trump, this culture of cruelty has gone a mile further: we see anti-abortion people calling for white supremacist nationalism, for violence against protestors, for the criminalization of LGBTQ+ people, and even for downright fascism. It's horrific. People who stand for the inherent dignity of all human beings and fight for the right to life should boldly stand against such dehumanization and violence.
The two-party duopoly has forced us into this nightmare situation where, every two to four years, we approach the voting booth with anxiety and angst and trepidation because the options given nearly always ask voters to throw some group of humans under the bus for political expediency and power. If we vote for a GOP candidate, we’re likely to be backing someone who says they want to end or limit or reduce abortions; however, that same candidate is also likely to condone or support the state-sanctioned violence of hawkish war policies, torture and capital punishment against incarcerated people (including migrants and refugees), and police brutality against communities of color. Contrariwise, on the other end of the duopoly, if we vote for a Democratic candidate, it’s possible that they are someone who supports more humane policies on immigration, poverty, and criminal justice reform; however, that same candidate is likely to condone or support the state-sanctioned violence of abortion on demand, embryonic stem cell research, or even the killing of vulnerable elderly and disabled populations through euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Ultimately, I can’t tell you how to vote. Personally, I can tell you that I refuse to give my vote to anyone who supports legal violence. The low bar that I ask each candidate to pass before I’m willing to consider voting for them is simply this: “Do you oppose all forms of aggressive violence?” If a candidate supports abortion, or hawkish foreign policy, or torture, or euthanasia, or assisted suicide, or capital punishment, or police brutality, or human trafficking, or dismembering humans for political or social or scientific advancement — or any other form of aggressive violence — I cannot in good conscience vote for them. It’s such a low bar to ask candidates to oppose violence! It should be common sense to demand that politicians oppose the intentional harming of any members of our human family. And yet we continue getting stuck with an ethical dilemma wherein we are consistently asked to choose “the lesser of two evils.”
What if being asked to support “the lesser of two evils” over and over and over again has resulted in this particular political moment, where the evil just keeps getting more and more evil?
Both sides of this modern political duopoly are bathed in violence. There is no mainstream political party that consistently condemns violence against human beings. We, as the grassroots plebeians, often feel pressured to play along with this violent binary we’ve been brought up in. How do we break out of this system of violence, when the system was built against outsiders and people of conscience in the first place?
I firmly believe that we as people of conscience need to stand up and demand better than the options we’ve been given. Instead of being sleepily led into one of the violent silos (whether Democrat or Republican), we have to think outside the boxes we’ve been led to believe we must support. I don’t know what the precise answer is (I’d love to hear your ideas about how we can break out of this horrific two-party duopoly!), but I know that we have to engage in some creative nonviolent thinking to build a better, wholly life-affirming future.
Ultimately, the things we do daily, weekly, monthly in our own communities are more important than a singular vote. Enact justice. Live peace. Always. Right where you are. We must not see voting every four years as our sole political action towards supporting human rights. While our culture may frame voting as the beginning and the end of political action, in reality, voting is merely one beginning towards action. The work begins on November 4th; it doesn’t end there.
How we choose to live, daily, for and in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed will always have more of an impact than your one vote for president, or senate, or any other major political office. Statistically speaking, your vote will have an infinitesimally small impact on the outcome of the race, but 100% of the time, it will impact your own conscience. Your vote indicates which groups of humans you are willing to sacrifice “for the greater good.” Rather than trying to justify making that compromise, make a commitment to yourself and to the community you reside in to live justice daily. Don't depend on politicians to do it for you.
In closing, I hope that the pro-life movement will reclaim the social justice stance that sees ending abortion and protecting the rights of the preborn as authentically progressive. I wish this movement would stop submitting to being dragged behind the GOP, hoping for scraps and compromising our witness. That said, I do not think that the salvation of this movement is in the Democratic party. Instead, this sociopolitical movement should be bold enough, principled enough, large enough, nonpartisan enough, diverse enough, and loud enough to make politicians on any side move for us. For years, many pro-lifers have moved for the GOP, working within the given boxes of the violent two-party duopoly. I ask you to consider: in doing so, what have we compromised? What have we lost in the search for political power?
Let’s stand on principle; the principle that every human being is worth protecting, worth standing in solidarity with, worth fighting for. Let us stand on the principle that every human being deserves to live the duration of their life free from violence. Let us demand better than a duopoly steeped in violence. Let’s demand better choices than violence and “lesser evils” — because, in the end, the lesser of two evils is still evil.