Voting Your Conscience
Unless you have been living in a cave with no access to the outside world, you are probably aware that there is an upcoming presidential election in the United States. You are also probably aware that the Democratic party managed to offer up one of the least liked candidates (HRC) they could find all but handing the election to the Republicans, who in turn, found the one candidate (DJT) that is more appalling than HRC. (It is a rather impressive accomplishment by the Republicans if you think about it in those terms.) Because of this, many disgruntled voters are looking at third parties, the most popular and organized of which is the Libertarian party. While, in the opinion of the author, ultimately superior to the two major alternatives, Gary Johnson (the Libertarian candidate) has left many people from all sides of the political spectrum very underwhelmed. For Christians, abortion is usually a big deal. In what follows, I will be explaining why I (as a pro-life voter) will consider a vote for a pro-choice candidate, but also briefly discussing some other concerns I have with the third party candidate.
Abortion is one of the biggest moral failings of this generation. While I disagree with the abolitionist movement’s all-or-nothing approach to prohibition, I can understand it. I believe that incremental progress is better than waiting until total prohibition, and I believe that medical terminations should exist for couples who are faced with ectopic pregnancies and other cases where the mother’s life is endangered by carrying to full term. These are, however, not even close to a majority of abortions. In addition to this, I am troubled by some of the advocates in the pro-choice camp. Partial birth abortion should not be something that is considered and, even if it was necessary, abortion isn’t something that should be celebrated. The “shout your abortion” movement is depraved in the highest degree. Ending your child’s life should never be celebrated. Empowering women should not be championed through celebrating death.
These views on abortion do give a reason for pause for pause when considering a pro-choice candidate. For some people, it settles the vote, and I can understand and respect that. There is a very helpful video from a panel with Al Mohler and Russell Moore where the pro-life discussion came up in regard to DJT. One of the comments in the conversation that Al Mohler made was that he could not vote for someone who would expand abortions or make the issue worse. This is a helpful distinction. While there is no moral flexibility on advocating for more extreme abortions (such as partial birth abortion), and we would also not want to expand abortions, the consideration of a candidate that would fall short of abolition, perhaps one that would want to limit the scope of abortion is valid. I think that this is a helpful position. Another point that Russell Moore brought up in the video is helpful as well. If the sanctity of life is a primary concern, a pro-life candidate who threatens to expand the murder of innocent civilians in other countries (which is an advocacy of a war crime) is not one who values the sanctity of human life to begin with. Whether or not a person can vote for a candidate they believe will not make things worse (or will bring incremental improvements), when the sanctity of life is a concern there are more issues at stake than just abortion.
The libertarian’s relationship to the pro-choice/pro-life discussion is mixed. There are a growing number of Christian libertarians who seem to believe that the libertarian position is the pro-life position, yet libertarianism is in popular conception (and very likely the majority opinion) pro-choice. While many still view Ron Paul as a picture of pro-life libertarianism, it is not surprising to see Gary Johnson win the Libertarian party two elections in a row as a pro-choice candidate. He has personal convictions against abortion, but also believes that it is a personal choice and not the government’s choice. He has spoken out in the past about supporting abortions until the viability of life. The common consensus is that this is around 24 weeks. (There have been cases of survival, with surgery, before this point. As medical technology improves, so does the survivability of babies prematurely born earlier and earlier.) He has also said that the government should continue to fund planned parenthood. Whatever one believes the most consistent libertarian position is on the issue, Johnson is on the pro-choice side of the discussion.
When it comes to abortion, I disagree strongly with Johnson. If he still holds to the viability of life position, I would view that as a step in the right direction, but as best as I can see he has not spoken to that issue recently. I can appreciate that in matters of foreign policy he holds a much more dignity-of-human-life position than either HRC or DJT. I do find foreign policy to be something much more immediately impacted by the office of the Presidency than abortion, however. Practically speaking, I do not see much hope in solving the abortion issue through the courts anytime soon. The majority of appointments to the Supreme Court have in the past 5 decades been Republican appointments and thus far Roe v Wade is still the law. Access to contraception, supporting organizations like Save The Storks that seek to offer help and choices to women, and adoption are all places that we can start to change the reality of abortion in a grassroots level without the courts. Adoption is actually one of the more crucial points here, specifically foster adoption. There are hundreds of thousands of children who already need homes. If the “don’t abort, we’ll adopt” advocates are serious, they should start by ending the problem of foster care first. Aborted babies are tragic examples of unwanted children, but in order to solve that problem, we need to solve the problem of unwanted children that are still alive.
In general, I am much less excited about Gary Johnson now than I was in 2012. While he was pro-choice back then, there are some specific comments that he has made that leave his position on things very vague. In addition to those concerns, he has repeatedly made claims that are troubling to a libertarian. His calling religious liberty in regard to businesses a black hole, his defending GMO labeling, and most recently advocating for a carbon tax have all raised concerns (in addition to his support of a universal basic income, but I give that a pass since I am also an advocate along with some left-libertarians).
I am a great advocate of voting for your conscience, voting for someone that on the whole you can get behind, instead of voting against the candidate you dislike more. The more people who are willing to stand for someone, even if that means voting for a third party, the more likely we will see an improvement in the quality of our politicians and the faster we will dismantle this two-party system we have created. That being the case, I must wrestle with Gary Johnson this time. If it was the Gary Johnson of 2012, the more idealistic candidate, I wouldn’t hesitate. But this year Johnson seems to be really striving for popular appeal which is starting to look like muddying the water to try and get a wider audience. When I see a growing list of objections to his policies, at some point I will have to ask myself: am I voting for Johnson, or against the other two parties? If I am going to advocate voting for your conscience and not voting for a party, that does apply to the Libertarian too.
As of right now, I am undecided on who I will vote for. Can I vote for a pro-choice candidate? Under certain conditions, I can (if I do not see them as making things worse, more so if I see them making things better than they are). However, I cannot tell anyone they should vote for a pro-choice candidate. That would be a gross violation of conscience, and I understand why this issue is paramount for so many of my fellow Christians. There are a great number of reasons why people vote for the candidates they do and even when we disagree with those choices, we must remember to be charitable to each other. I will, however, admonish my fellow Christians to do the research, pray, and vote for someone that they can support. Decades of voting against someone have gotten us into this mess. Vote your conscience, even if that means not voting for the candidate with an L next to his name.