As much as American evangelicals are supposedly moving away from “one-issue” politics, most ordinary evangelicals that I know will be casting their vote for John McCain simply because of Obama’s pro-choice views on abortion. Today, in fact, James Dobson of Focus on the Family officially endorsed McCain.
Yet it seems to me that there is no clear-cut pro-life candidate in this election. McCain is a federalist. He wants the abortion issue to be decided by the states. This means that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, it is likely that some states will make abortion illegal and others will not. Pro-lifers who think that overturning Roe v. Wade will end all abortions in America are simply wrong. McCain’s view allows for the possibility that abortion would remain legal in parts of the country. Will New York or Massachusetts or California vote to criminalize abortion in a post-Roe v. Wade world? Probably not.
Both Obama and McCain want to end abortion, but neither of them want to oppose their will on the people. For McCain this means turning things over to the people in the states and letting them decide what they want to do with abortion. This implies that people, in a democracy, have a legal right, at a state level, to support abortion rights if they so choose. For Obama it means giving all women the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion–a decision they should make in consultation with their family, doctor and clergy.
Since neither of their plans will result in a complete ban on abortion, the debate really comes down to which approach will be more effective in reducing abortion. Obama wants to limit the number of abortions, a plan that he believes is best accomplished through social programs designed to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies. McCain, while personally pro-life (a fact that he affirmed at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Forum) has not really made the reduction of abortion a dominant campaign issue. His federalist view (let the states decide) is a political approach to this problem, not a moral one. Obama, on the other hand, at least acknowledges abortion to be a moral problem and, as the Democratic platform affirms, wants to do what he can to limit them.
Again, both candidates believe in placing democracy (the people’s choice) over a plan that would ban abortion entirely.
But most evangelical voters will, I am guessing, be giving their vote to McCain because they are still driven by the old culture war abortion labels. In other words, McCain is “pro-life” and Obama is “pro-choice.” When in doubt, most ordinary evangelicals will pull the lever for the “pro-life” candidate.
I think there are many evangelicals who want to support Obama but see the abortion issue as a hurdle. Perhaps Obama could win some of these moderate evangelicals by being a bit more pro-active when he talks about abortion as a moral problem. If Obama is so concerned about limiting the number of abortions then why doesn’t he make this a more prominent part of his campaign? Isn’t this what Democrats do–defend the helpless? Why not use his stump speeches to say that we need to limit abortions in America? Every time I have seen Obama talk about abortion it is in response to a question from a reporter or some other inquisitor. He is always on the defensive when explaining his view on abortion. Why not go on the offensive? If this is such a moral issue why not bring the subject up without being asked about it? It seems that Obama can claim to be pro-choice (so not to alienate so many members of his party) and still bring up the moral problem of abortion, in an unsolicited way, as a regular part of his campaign.
Yet with Obama’s lead in the polls all of this may not matter anymore. THAT would be a shame.