Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Golden Rule and pro-life voting

Pro-life voters recognize, as a matter of biological fact, that the human embryo or fetus is a whole human organism, a living member of the species Homo sapiens no different in nature than you and me. And they are convinced, as a matter of moral principle, that there is a fundamental equality among all human beings, including those very young and vulnerable humans at the earliest developmental stages. All have worth and dignity and deserve respect and protection. The unborn child is "one of us" -- a full-fledged member of the human family. The command to love our neighbor includes our neighbor in the womb.

Given these facts, it is helpful, as Notre Dame professor Gerard V. Bradley writes, to apply a "Golden Rule" test in assessing the claims made by some that pro-life support for pro-choice candidates is justified.
[U]nder what circumstances is it morally permissible to vote for a "pro-choice" candidate, particularly one [e.g., Barack Obama] who promises not just to uphold the abortion license, but even to expand our unjust structure by introducing government funding of abortion and by removing some brakes upon abortion, such as parental notice laws?

To answer this question we have to consider the matter from the perspective of those who suffer the foreseeable harm resulting from the perpetration of "pro-choice" policies -- the unborn who are killed. Then we have to apply the great moral principle we call the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Golden Rule makes us walk in the others' shoes, makes us count the stranger and his or her well-being just as one welcomes the benefits and avoid the harms of what one does when the beneficiary or victim is oneself or someone near and dear. The Golden Rule pushes back particularly hard against our tendency to discount the harms we visit upon those we do not know -- those who cannot object, those who cannot offer effective resistance. The Golden Rule steers us to the morally right choice despite the fact that, though we may believe everyone is equal, we do not treat them that way. The Golden Rule leads us to be fair to everyone whose lives and fortunes are foreseeably affected by our actions -- as justice requires.
The test is best put like this: Would any given reason for voting for a candidate committed to the legalized killing of unborn children also work to justify voting for a candidate committed to the legalized killing of some other segment of the human family? If not, then in accepting that reason we are not treating unborn human beings as we treat others, or as we would like others to treat us. We are rejecting the Golden Rule.

Consider the candidate who says he wants to address the "root causes" of abortion but refuses to actually restrict the practice. May pro-lifers vote for him? Bradley writes:
Suppose that approximately 1.2 million American women are killed each year by domestic violence. Suppose further that a Presidential candidate said the following: "Friends, I think we must stop wasting resources prosecuting domestic violence. Let us get the law out of the picture. Maybe someday we could arrest men who kill women at home. But that day is not today, for anyone can see that arrests and convictions have not slowed the rate of domestic violence very much at all. Besides, we are talking about private family matters where people make hard choices. Let us instead join together and attack the root causes of domestic violence, causes which have to do with ignorance and poverty. I propose therefore to give angry men jobs and money to attend anger management classes. And I think we should start teaching all of America's children early on that every man and woman deserves to be treated well."

Anyone who refuses to vote for this candidate but who would vote for a "pro-choice" candidate is, at least presumptively, guilty of failure to apply the Golden Rule.
What about pro-life voters who say a candidate's positions on other issues outweigh his position in favor of abortion?
The question which these people must ask themselves is this: Would they vote for a "pro-choice" candidate on the strength of his preference for more government-provided health care than his rival proposes in his comparable plan, if doing so exposed their children to mortal danger? Suppose the candidate's commitment to a policy of "choice" referred, not to so many tiny and invisible people, but instead to hundreds of thousands of immigrants, or to the same number of prisoners or mentally handicapped or physically infirm people. Would they still support that candidate, even if his policies on energy, taxes, and employment were superior to his rival's?

A vote for a candidate who favors "pro-choice" policies on abortion by someone who does not answer the preceding questions "yes" does not, I think, satisfy the Golden Rule.
Applying the Golden Rule might be difficult when victims are small, unseen, without a voice and without a vote. But the point of the Golden Rule is that those factors don't matter morally. Everyone counts.

I explain in detail why pro-lifers should vote for pro-life candidates -- and I respond to objections, including the two Bradley discusses -- here.