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by Timothy Gloege
For the record, I know you from the inside out. I’m not only a historian of evangelicalism, I’m also a child of it: born and raised, and then born again. I “asked Jesus into my heart” when I was a kid. I memorized large portions of the Bible. I spent time as a homeschooler, and in the 1990s I had a life-sized photograph of Ronald Reagan on my dorm wall at Bible school.
After college, I switched political teams, but I still believe. I go to church every Sunday in a denomination not hostile to evangelicals. I’m even a deacon.
So, here’s my question, and I want you to answer it honestly. What matters more to you: making abortion illegal or reducing the number of procedures that occur each year?
Or let me put it another way. Which is the better society: one in which abortions are illegal and punished when they occur (because they will), or one in which the surgical procedure is legal, but largely unnecessary?
This is more than a rhetorical question. We already know how to decrease the abortion rate: make contraception easy to access. This is low-hanging fruit folks; other fellow pro-life evangelicals have pointed it out.
But there’s another thing we could try. Several studies have noted that the majority of women seeking abortions earn less than the poverty level (that’s about $16,000 annually for a family of two). In fact, while the abortion rate has dropped at other income levels, it has increased among those in poverty.
Correlation may not equal causation, but poverty reduction is a pro-life strategy worth exploring. So why aren’t pro-life advocates the loudest, fiercest advocates for anti-poverty programs in America?
We could easily go further. Why not advocate for a basic income (something arch-conservative economist Milton Freedman suggested years ago)? And throw in a few condoms. It’s a pro-life platform for the masses!
Seriously, why not? What are the risks?
Are we afraid anti-poverty programs will create dependent people? Afraid it will be too expensive? Afraid free birth control will lead to increased sexual activity outside of a committed relationship? We can argue about all that if you want. But let’s hold off.
Just remember: we are talking about reducing abortions. And abortion, you regularly tell me, is no different from murdering innocent children.
Think about that for a second.
Now tell me: do you really believe what you say? If so, isn’t preventing a holocaust worth a compromise in social or economic policy? Shouldn’t we be willing to pay any price?
Our last pro-life president launched a war because of a hunch about some aluminum tubes. It cost trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. Why not spend something to fight poverty and perhaps reduce abortion in the process?
I also ask because the pro-life movement has been working on outlawing abortion for, what, thirty-five or forty years now? How’s that going?
Look, I know you are suspicious of Planned Parenthood. You think it’s a business (it’s not) whose “profitability” relies on abortion services (it’s actually only a small part of what they do). I get it; I know Margaret Sanger was in the eugenics movement and said some things. I don’t know, maybe she was a baby Christian or something. (Kidding, sorry, bad joke.)
How about this: if Planned Parenthood opposes anti-poverty programs to save its “abortion business,” I’ll join your fight to have it completely defunded. And I’ll admit you were right all along.
Meanwhile, I simply can’t shake the suspicion that the pro-life movement is more interested in controlling women’s bodies than it is in preserving life. And, yes, I know this is a longstanding canard of the pro-choice movement. And I know you’ll insist you are sincerely concerned about life. I know, because that was me back in the day.
But if you really, truly, believe that a fertilized egg is equal to an infant, then you need to prove it. Because when you repeatedly oppose programs that reduce abortions, it makes it look like your concern for “life” is a convenient cover for “control.”
So, let’s settle the question once and for all. What is your end goal?
Let me put it this way: because you are sincerely concerned about life, why not simply work for free access to birth control and anti-poverty efforts and then see what happens. You can reduce abortions and addressing the biggest critique of your movement.
I guess I’m also asking what you, personally, are willing to sacrifice to reduce abortion in America. Because I realize this would be an ideological compromise. I’m asking you to risk supporting a policy that might not work.
If you can’t stomach more federal programs or higher taxes, I suppose I understand. You are a conservative. But then let’s temper the rhetoric of abortion-as-moral-catastrophe. And let’s be honest about our real opinions. Maybe, in the end, we both believe abortion is simply a medical procedure with a touch of moral ambiguity. And if that’s the case, then let’s leave that discussion between a woman and her doctor.
Look, I’m tired of fighting. And I’m pretty sure you could get most pro-choice folk to work with you to end poverty. I’d certainly be on board.
So what do you say? Let Trump and Hillary do their thing. Meanwhile, if you’re serious, let’s take real steps toward what the majority of Americans can agree on: reducing the need for abortion. If we reduce the necessity, we inevitably reduce the number. And I’ll happily lend a hand for that.
Brian Keepers is away today.
We welcome guest-blogger Timothy Gloege, a historian based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and author of Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).