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Politics & Policy

Michael Gerson on Pro-Lifers and the Presidential Election

The former George W. Bush speechwriter, now at the Washington Post, explains why he is voting for Joe Biden even while disagreeing with him about abortion.

I expect to make a fuller statement of my own views about how pro-lifers should think about the election in due course. Here, at the risk of being unfair to Gerson, who couldn’t reasonably be expected to address all of these issues in the space of a column, I’ll note four holes I find in his argument.

First: He assumes that making the case that a pro-lifer should not vote for President Trump amounts to making the case that he should vote for Biden. There are other options: third-party candidates, write-ins, abstention. Gerson may have good reasons for rejecting those options, but many points of his argument — the duty of voters to avoid “complicity in grave wrongs,” for example, which he invokes only in making the case against Trump — requires him at least to consider them.

Second: Gerson proceeds as though he need only establish that pro-lifers should not be single-issue voters to clinch his case. “If other matters are allowed to matter, the floodgates open,” he writes. There is, of course, an alternative to treating abortion as the only issue to determine one’s vote and ignoring it altogether, and that is giving it a great deal of weight. I imagine Gerson would agree with that point. But he doesn’t engage in that weighing. Having established that voters may take account of other considerations, he just moves on to listing ones that militate against Trump and then shares his conclusion that he’s going to vote for Biden.

Third: Gerson does not mention Biden’s support for taxpayer funding of abortion, or his party’s increased commitment to it. He notes that abortion rates dropped under President Obama. But we didn’t have Medicaid funding of abortions under Obama, and the Democratic Party of that era was much less united behind that goal. We have good reason to think that Medicaid funding would increase the death toll from abortion.

Fourth: A dimension of the injustice of abortion is entirely neglected in Gerson’s analysis. That injustice includes both the unjustified killing of unborn children and the law’s treatment of unborn children as non-persons who do not deserve protection. The pro-life slogan that unborn children should be “protected in law and welcomed in life” captures both of these dimensions. Gerson ignores one of them when he says that even if Trump’s reelection led to “a significant retreat from Roe,” Americans would mostly live under the same abortion laws as now. Maybe so. But a significant reduction in the abortion rate would be possible, and ought to matter even on Gerson’s own argument. And it would no longer be the official policy of the federal government that our Constitution makes unborn children non-persons with no rights, which ought to matter too.

Gerson says that his voting intention is “uncomfortable but inevitable.” I think it is less inevitable than he believes, and that he has made it more comfortable than it ought to be.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.