When Compromising Is not a Compromise

Gregory Koukl
|
Posted: Nov 06, 2007 10:23 AM
When Compromising Is not a Compromise

During next year’s presidential election, the one issue that most directly relates to justice is abortion. If you are a Christian, no other question should have more influence in your choice of candidates. Which candidate offers the greatest chance of securing justice for humanity’s most defenseless members, the unborn?

“That's one-issue voting,” you say. Yes it is, the one issue God is most concerned with when it comes to government. And on the issue of abortion there can be no compromise.

No Middle Ground

National Review publisher William F. Buckley explained in an interview why there can be no middle ground in the pro-life view. Those in favor of abortion accord no intrinsic moral status to the unborn, he observed. How one treats the fetus, therefore, is open to personal belief, preference, or even whim.

Pro-lifers, on the other hand, understand that the unborn, though small, underdeveloped, and vulnerable, are still human beings worthy of protection. If they’re right, then “choice” in any of its permutations grants liberty to kill unwanted human children. Therefore, any concession to choice undermines the moral logic of the entire pro-life position. Gregg Cunningham, President of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, said, “A woman cannot be a little bit pregnant, and a baby cannot be a little bit dead.”

There are only two positions, no more. Either you hold that the unborn are not due protection and the government should allow women the choice to take the life of the fetus, or you believe the unborn should not be killed, but rather protected like any other human being. There is no middle ground. All “centrist,” “moderate,” “balanced,” “accommodating,” “conciliatory,” or “middle” approaches affirm the first view. They’re all pro-choice—every single one of them.

All or Nothing?

Since there is no middle ground on abortion—“choice” always means a dead child—then it’s critically important we make decisions at the polls that go beyond token moral gestures (something that looks right, but has no impact). We must make choices that have the greatest chance of actually saving children.

The possible question we’re faced with is this: If we were forced to choose between feeling or looking virtuous but having no actual effect, or appearing ignoble but accomplishing some good, which path should we take? When we must choose one or the other, are we obliged by God to make a moral statement or to have a moral impact?

Statements vs. Impact

Goodness requires more than making a moral statement. Rather, it requires having a moral impact. Jesus condemned Jews who abused the practice of Corban (Mark 7:11), a pledge to God that appeared righteousness, but helped no one. Let me be clear: The motives of pro-lifers voting “consistently pro-life” are different from those who used the practice of Corban as a religious cloak for avarice. However, the result is the same: moral statements with no moral impact.

In a California senatorial election several years ago, both front-runners were pro-abortion, but for the Republican candidate, Matt Fong, partial-birth abortion went too far. His Democratic opponent, Barbara Boxer, had no such scruples. It was a close race, with many pro-lifers staying home or instead casting their votes for unelectable candidates who were “consistently pro-life.” Consequently, Boxer prevailed.

Those whose “conscience vote” guaranteed that a hard-core pro-abortionist was re-elected could have benefited from the moral insight of Pope Ratzinger:

According to the principles of Catholic morality, an action can be considered licit [morally permissible] whose object and proximate effect consist in limiting an evil insofar as possible. Thus, when one intervenes in a situation judged evil in order to correct it for the better, and when the action is not evil in itself, such an action should be considered not as the voluntary acceptance of the lesser evil, but rather as the effective improvement of the existing situation, even though one remains aware that not all evil present is able to be eliminated for the moment.

In other words, it’s better to choose someone who is committed to eliminating some of the evil, than contributing to the victory of one who is not committed to eliminating any of the evil but, on the contrary, will promote it. This is not a compromise. This is good moral thinking.

Father Peter West with Priests for Life adds this:

Before the Civil War, if your goal was racial equality, the most prudent thing to do would have been to vote for Lincoln even though he said he wouldn’t overturn slavery if that would save the Union. He also held some racist views, but he was far better than the alternative. Abolitionists kept pressure on Lincoln to free the slaves. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which freed only some slaves. Later, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed to recognize the personhood of African-Americans. The battle to achieve racial equality would go on, but the victory of Lincoln was a major step toward that goal despite his flaws.

In the same vein, Lincoln scholar Harry Jaffa has said, "The wise statesman will act to achieve the greatest measure of justice that the world in which he is acting admits."

Making Your Vote Count

If you want to make your vote count for millions of unborn children, you have to face three very important facts. First, in the next four years you'll be governed by either a Democrat or Republican president. Second, the power to destroy human life in the womb lies not with the legislature, but with the courts. Third, the next president will likely appoint between two and five new justices to the Supreme Court and dozens of jurists to lower courts.

Let me state it plainly: If you are pro-life and intend on casting a “conscience vote” for a third party candidate, you might as well be voting for the “pro-choice party.” It will have the same ultimate impact on the safety of the unborn. Voting pro-life principles isn’t always voting for a pro-life candidate; a principled vote might mean voting for the viable option that will either advance the pro-life cause better or hurt it the least.

If you sleep more comfortably at night because you’ve voted your principles, then I believe your conscience is well-intended, though misinformed. You’ve chosen to make a moral statement instead of choosing to have a moral impact.

As one pundit put it, it's better to have a second class fireman than a first class arsonist. There is no victory or honor in voting for the first-class fireman who had no chance of winning when, in the end, your “conscience vote” actually allowed the arsonist get elected.

The primary election is the place to vote for our first-class fireman, a pro-lifer who can win the general election. But if a second-class fireman is nominated, a principled pro-life vote isn’t compromised by voting for him over the first-class arsonist.