As an evangelical who opposed Donald Trump’s presidency, I should be used to a certain political homelessness by now. Most days I’m fine with it. I believe Christian faith is strongest when it transcends the talking points of Republicans and Democrats alike.
But on the topic of abortion, the homelessness comes as an existential crisis — and tempts me to check out of politics entirely.
I oppose abortion because it contradicts the Christian teaching that every life is sacred. Whatever life exists in the womb in its earliest forms, abortion certainly ends it. I believe that a life before birth is self-evidently a life and does not become one only after a woman chooses to call it her child.
But I also believe that abortion is a symptom of — not a solution to — a culture that profoundly disregards women. So I am keenly interested in cultural and political solutions that honor women’s choices while also honoring the dignity of unborn persons. With enough goodwill on either side of the political aisle, I believe we can ensure that every child who comes into the world is welcomed and flourishes long after birth.
But given the deep polarization of US politics, I have lost hope that either party’s leaders want common ground on this topic. Not that long ago, pro-life voices were found on both sides of the political aisle. (Pre–Roe v. Wade, most pro-life activists were political liberals, and Republicans were slightly more likely than Democrats to favor abortion rights.) Despite wildly different views on the free market or the role of federal government, House and Senate leaders could come together to find compromises, such as restricting taxpayer funding for abortions (1976) or banning late-term abortions (2003).
The common ground of yesterday is deserted today. Both parties bear responsibility for this desertion.
The Democrats are waffling on whether they want pro-lifers in the party
The Democrats, reeling from losing the presidential election last fall, are undergoing serious soul searching on abortion. Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez recently threw down the nonnegotiable that “every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body.” This signaled to the remaining pro-life Democrats — in this case, Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello — that they were now outside the “big tent” party. It wasn’t enough that Mello vowed to protect women’s reproductive rights; he also had to be personally pro-choice.
Nancy Pelosi publicly disagreed with Perez — “of course” Democrats can be pro-life, she said. And Perez has since made plans to meet with members of the pro-life Democrats for Life of America. Still, the larger conversation alienates the 49 percent of Americans who say abortion is morally wrong (especially the 23 percent of Democratic voters who say as much). As my views on abortion arise out of my faith and are thus nonnegotiable, Perez’s statements are effectively a sign outside the big tent that reads, “Christians not welcome here.” (The vast majority of Christians throughout the ages have opposed abortion, even if they have disagreed about whether it should be legal.)
Democrats’ ambivalence about whether pro-lifers belong in their party also solidifies the perception that the Republican Party has the moral upper hand on issues of life. Vice President Mike Pence told thousands at the March for Life this January, “Life is winning again in America. ... That is evident in the presence of pro-life majorities in the Congress.” Despite the awkwardness of framing “life” as something that can win or lose, Pence rightly underscored that Republicans have successfully communicated moral clarity on abortion. Such clarity animated white evangelicals’ support of Republican candidate Donald Trump, despite his previous waffling on the issue and many other foibles besides: 81 percent of white evangelical voters cast their ballot for him.
But the Republicans are advancing anti-life policy
I would feel much more at home among Republicans and fellow white evangelicals alike if not for other Republican policies that are anti-life. Take just as a recent example House Republicans’ passage of the American Health Care Act. To be sure, much remains unclear about the bill, and it and could be seriously revised or scrapped in the Senate. But as a worldview statement, the bill suggests that the “life” that’s really winning is already healthy and well-off.
There are many ways in which the AHCA, if passed, would make life for vulnerable Americans more difficult. The Congressional Budget Office found that the AHCA would result in 14 million fewer Americans enrolled in Medicaid by the year 2026 — a reduction of 17 percent from current enrollment levels. The Medicaid cuts would impact schools that rely on the program to educate students with disabilities. The bill’s per capita cap for states is expected to roll back coverage for the elderly and disabled, who naturally have more expensive health care. And depending on which state they live in, people with preexisting conditions — metastatic cancer, heart failure, late-term kidney disease — could see surcharges in the tens of thousands of dollars per year.
The AHCA also falls short in the explicit goal of the pro-life movement: ensuring that more unborn persons have a chance of life. As it stands, the AHCA would create economic barriers that make it very difficult for women to choose to bring children into the world. A health care bill that prohibitively raises the cost of bringing life into the world is not pro-life.
According to Vox’s Sarah Kliff, the AHCA would allow states to waive the requirement that health insurance companies cover “pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care.” Prior to Obamacare, 88 percent of individual health care plans chose not to cover maternity care. So it’s plausible that a majority of plans would do the same if the AHCA passed.
According to the International Federation of Health Plans, in 2013 the average US childbirth with a conventional delivery cost $10,002; with a Caesarean section, $15,240. It follows that a woman whose insurance doesn’t cover maternity care, or who depended on Medicaid coverage, is more likely to end her pregnancy because it could financially capsize her and her family. Simply because having a baby in America costs a lot of money, the link between abortion and economics is irreducible.
Just because the AHCA cuts Planned Parenthood funding doesn’t make it pro-life
Nevertheless, pro-life groups such as the Susan B. Anthony List and National Right to Life praised the AHCA because it significantly defunds Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.
As National Right to Life spokesperson Tatiana Bergum told me, “We supported passage of the AHCA because it ... prevents federal tax credits from being used for plans that pay for abortions [and] it eliminates roughly 89 percent of federal Planned Parenthood funding for the next year.”
Likewise, Human Coalition’s Lauren Enriquez says the organization supports the AHCA because it would “rightly increase funding to federally qualified health centers while stripping the bulk of our hard-earned money from the nation’s abortion Goliath.”
She continued, “The government is tasked with ... ensuring the protection of all humans — especially the most defenseless. And that is something that the AHCA gets right.”
Unlike these groups, I don’t believe defunding Planned Parenthood is the silver bullet for the abortion dilemma. Even if Planned Parenthood were to be completely defunded, or if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned — two of the pro-life movement’s top goals — there would still be women who feel, for economic and social reasons, that abortion is their best or only option. It is our responsibility to meet them where they are.
My Christian beliefs tell me that in the creator’s amazing design, you cannot care for the life of an unborn child without caring for the mother. One’s flourishing is so intertwined with the other’s that to care for pregnant women is to care for unborn children. Yet House Republicans — by failure of imagination, an ideological commitment to self-sufficiency, or a combination thereof — have failed to advance a health care plan that is holistically pro-life.
What a truly pro-life health care bill would look like
This is the opportunity before Republican leaders in their moment of power. It is also the growth edge of the pro-life movement in America. Protecting unborn life must mean more than defunding Planned Parenthood and overturning Roe v. Wade. Protecting unborn life must at root mean putting our money where our mouth is: enacting programs and policies that make it easier for millions of women to choose life, from pre- and postnatal care to delivery to high-quality child care and education and beyond.
At the very least, for the AHCA drafters this would mean keeping pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care coverage mandatory; retaining Medicaid expansion; and diverting the money that would have gone to Planned Parenthood to federally qualified community health centers. (I have ethicist Charles Camosy to thank for these suggestions.) Beyond the scope of health care, it could also mean federally backed parental leave, a child allowance, and more robust financial assistance through SNAP, TANF, and the WIC nutrition program.
These solutions are ones many Democrats could get behind in theory — but only if the party welcomes pro-life leaders and resists overalignment with far-left abortion rights groups. Likewise, Republicans must also be willing to expand federal funding when unborn life is on the line, acknowledging that the countries with the lowest abortion rates also, not incidentally, have the lowest rates of child poverty owing to strong federal support programs.
It’s not enough to be against abortion. I am for life that includes but also extends beyond the moment of birth. I believe the pro-child versus pro-woman dichotomy is a false one unduly perpetuated by both extremes of the abortion debate. And I am waiting for politicians on both sides of the aisle to find political solutions that appeal to a wide swath of Americans.
Until then, I am tempted to check out of politics over disillusionment that Democrats or Republicans care about protecting vulnerable members of society. When partisanship reigns, real political solutions die. And when politics is reduced to winning, then many Americans lose — and are left to find the common ground previously abandoned by our country’s leaders.
Katelyn Beaty is an editor at large at Christianity Today magazine and author of A Woman’s Place (Howard/Simon & Schuster). She has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic and can be found on Twitter @KatelynBeaty.