A Modest Proposal to Conservative Evangelicals

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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).

Comments 16

  1. Thank you for this insightful description of our current dilemma. I always felt that the signs” pray to end abortion” were too simplistic. “Pray to end poverty” would be the better sign to post on your front lawn.

  2. I remember, back in the ’80s, when Dennis Miller anchored “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live,” that he read two stories together, about the same state legislature, in the same week, making abortions more difficult and capital punishment easier. All he said afterward was, “I guess it’s all in the timing.”

    Yes, I will be right by the side of pro-life supporters who want to support ALL life–the lives of unborn children, the lives of poor families, the lives of people being shot for being different, the lives of the imprisoned. And I would bet that if we reduce the number of poor families, the rest of those will begin to take care of themselves. Sign me up.

  3. If you are truly trying to speak to conservatives, I would suggest that you should have ended the article at, “And I’ll admit you were right all along.” Great points in here and a strategy absolutely worth trying! But there’s no need to speculate about the motives of pro-lifers. As someone who has made a similar switch, I can say that, when I was on the right side of politics, I had no desire to control women’s bodies and most of my pro-life friends feel the same way. They want to preserve the lives of infants. As you noted, “longstanding canard of the pro-choice movement” and it’s predominantly a rhetorical move. Why not just let pro-lifers dictate their own motives instead of telling them what they are?

    Do pro-lifers want to preserves the lives of infants? Yes.
    Do they want to control women’s choices about their bodies? For the most part, no.
    Are they consistent in applying a pro-life ethic to include the lives of poor people or foreigners? In many cases, no.

    There’s no need to caricature pro-lifers. You made some great points, but then digressed. Again, I have never met a pro-lifer whose motives included control of women’s bodies, at least as far as I could tell based on how well I knew them.

    Just as pro-lifers need to stop accusing pro-choicers of murder, pro-choicers need to stop accusing pro-lifers of this motive.

    Again, some great points about a different strategy! Making abortion illegal will probably never happen, but, as you’ve alluded, maybe this isn’t the source of the problem. And the problem of poverty needs more urgency.

    1. Well…a patriarchal denomination which opposes female ordination and discriminates against its own female members at every turn, such as the Southern Baptists and the Roman Catholics, would seem to be in the control of female bodies business.

    2. “making abortion illegal will probably never happen.” Thankfully the abolitionists did have this attitude.

    3. Thanks for writing this, Micah, it’s what I am thinking and couldn’t have expressed as well as you did. I resonated with the first half of this article, loved the simplicity and clarity of it and really wanted to Share it ….. but then came to what felt like an underlying contempt for pro-lifers and evangelicals…. that I don’t agree with and don’t want to pass on, especcailly in the current environment.

  4. Thank you – such a heartening thing to read. I only hope this line of discussion is taken up by others, and actually proves persuasive. “I’ll happily lend a hand to that” too. Again, well done.

  5. This would be a really great argument if the target audience were persuadable by a rational argument. As they aren’t, it’s not going to persuade anyone.

  6. Unfortunately your thesis is what philosophers call a “false dichotomy.” A false dichotomy occurs when an argument presents two options and ignores, either purposefully or out of ignorance, other alternatives. It should be illegal (because it is murder and murder immoral) and it should be unnecessary. If you want to decrease the necessity of abortions, as you imbed it into anti-poverty programs, then we need to encourage marriage (which are society and government is tearing down). See “Marriage and Caste in America” – https://www.amazon.com/Marriage-Caste-America-Separate-Post-Marital/dp/1566637538
    Also see: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/09/marriage-americas-greatest-weapon-against-child-poverty

    1. I find it mildly amusing that you accuse Mr Gloege of one logical fallacy by participating in another one. He never said anything contradicting your thesis on marriage.

      1. Brendt, what logical fallacy did I commit? I didn’t misrepresent him (a straw man fallacy), nor did I attack him personally (ad hominem). There was no fallacy in my reasoning. If there is one, tell me what it is and how I committed it. Merely asserting logical fallacy does not mean there was a logical fallacy. You say “He (Mr. Gleoge) never said anything contradicting your thesis on marriage.” Is this a fallacy? I never said he contradicted my thesis on marriage. I don’t see how that is a logical fallacy. What he DID do was present two alternative and either deliberately or ignorantly ignores other alternatives. I have no reason to think he is deliberately ignoring other alternatives (which would be nefarious) I am assuming he is ignoring it ignorantly. Research and experience (as well as common sense) show marriage is a much better means out of poverty than the anti-poverty programs that have been attempted in the past 50 years.

  7. Anti-poverty programs since LBJ (who launched the war against poverty) has resulted in $22 trillion dollars spent to end poverty since 1964. Adjusted for inflation, this spending (which does not include Social Security or Medicare) is three times the cost of all U.S. military wars since the American Revolution. See: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/09/the-war-on-poverty-after-50-years
    This is not a viable alternative. It has failed.

  8. These are the same lies that we heard in the 70’s before RoevWade. They are WRONG. Before RvW there were abortions, there was poverty, there were deaths from abortions. After RvW there were legal abortions, there was poverty, there were MORE (women) deaths from abortions. Before RvW the number of abortions was miniscule compared to after. After RvW there have been between 3000 and 4000 abortions in our country every single day!!!! These have been done primarily for convenience.
    When ultra-sounds showed that there is a living, moving human being inside of a woman’s body, the number of abortions went down. Girls are still told that they are just ‘discarding a blob of cells’. That is why Planned Parenthood never shows an ultra sound to their customers.
    Today all pregnant women are encouraged to have ultrasounds. When the ultrasound shows that there is a possibility of a down’s syndrome child the woman is encouraged to have an abortion. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor this woman is.

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