The Moral Logic of Being Pro-Life

Author Greg Koukl Published on 03/08/2013

If your daughter came up to you and said, I’m tired of taking care of Grandma, I’m going to kill her, would you call a family meeting and discuss it and then leave the choice up to her?

I’m troubled because some of the presidential candidates can’t explain their pro-life view.

It simply goes like this. If abortion is wrong, or if it is right, it is either right or wrong for a reason. And this reason needs to be given. If someone thinks that abortion is wrong, you have to ask them, Why is abortion wrong? It’s important to us not only individually, but especially for our presidential candidates to know the answer to that question.

I was talking to a man in Florida a few years back at a Ligonier conference. He came up to me at our Stand to Reason table. He announced to me that he personally believed that abortion was wrong, but he didn’t believe that we should prohibit other people who thought differently about the issue from getting abortions. He thought it ought to be legal even though he personally thought it was wrong. This is the favorite choice of politicians who want to get the pro-life vote, but who also want the pro-choice vote at the same time. It is called the modified pro-choice position.

If somebody makes that kind of statement, there is always a tactic you employ. You ask a question. When they say, I’m personally against abortion but I don’t think other people should be prohibited from having abortions, you ask, Why are you personally against abortion? I understand that you don’t think it’s right and don’t want to force your views on others, but why is it that you think abortion is wrong?

It’s a very fair question. You will consistently get basically the same answer, the answer that the gentleman gave me.

He said, “I think abortion in wrong because I think it takes the life of an innocent human child, but that is just my personal view.”

I said, “Okay, I think I understand your view, but let me just repeat it back to you and you tell me if I’ve got it right. You think abortion kills an innocent human child, but you think women should be legally allowed to do that.”

He said, “Well, when you put it that way...”

I said, “Put it what way? That’s your view. If I’ve misunderstood you, please let me know, but I thought that’s what I actually heard you say. It doesn’t sound so good coming back at you, does it?”

I took the logic of his view seriously and took the spin off of it. I took the PR off of it. I said it to him exactly as it actually is in substance. And when I said it that way, he got a good look at what his view actually was. He believed it was okay for other women to kill their children, even though he wouldn’t kill his children.

This is why it is so important for people who oppose abortion, or in fact those people who are in favor of it, to develop a moral rationale. The moral rationale is what governs and speaks to all the variations on this issue. If abortion is wrong, then it is wrong for a reason and this reason needs to govern our view of the so-called exceptions.

Senator John McCain can say, “I’m against abortion. I’m a pro-life candidate.” But why, when he is confronted with a question about his daughter being pregnant, does he say, “I think that we’d all get together and have a family discussion, but the choice would be up to her.”

Ambassador Keyes picked up on the problem, and he understands the moral logic of abortion and simply applied it in that circumstance. Here’s how he responded. “Senator, if your daughter came up to you and said, I’m tired of taking care of Grandma, I’m going to kill her, would you call a family meeting and discuss it and then leave the choice up to her?”

This got Senator McCain angry and he made some reference to his service in Vietnam he’d seen plenty of death, and didn’t need Keyes lecturing him.

I wish I had the exact counter-rejoinder from Alan Keyes, but I have the sense of it. He jumped right back into the game, which is something I appreciate about him. He said, “Senator McCain, I can’t speak from your personal experience, and I’m not speaking about that. In fact, this doesn’t have to do with your service in Vietnam. It has to do with whether one is consistent in his views on the pro-life issue.”

He’s right. If it is wrong to take the life of an innocent child because they are human beings, and you ought not take the lives of human beings simply because they are in the way and can’t defend themselves, then it is not an appropriate response for any pro-lifer, like John McCain alleges to be, to say when he is personally confronted with the circumstance that he will have a family meeting, discuss it, and leave the decision up to his daughter. No more than he would say the same thing if his daughter announced that she was going to kill Grandma next week because she was tired of taking care of her. That is the logic of abortion.

McCain may have a good pro-life voting record, but I’m troubled when he can’t explain why he’s pro-life and he makes statements contrary to the pro-life logic. If wants to lead the country to a day when abortion will be outlawed, then he needs to explain it.

When presidential candidates get caught on the horns of these kinds of questions, I wish they would take the time not just to try to answer the question in a safe way to make everybody happy, but I wish they would educate the public. In a past presidential election, I did a commentary from this microphone (available on our web site) and the ideas apply as much today as they did then. The title of the commentary was “Leaders Should Lead.”

I heard a political joke the other day. The politician was asked, “Where do you stand on this issue?” He said, “I don’t know, I haven’t taken a poll yet.”

Leaders who do that are not leaders, they are followers. They first find out what the people want and then they follow their leaders, who are the people. Instead of leading the people to a newer, better, and morally higher point of view, any leader worth his salt needs to understand the moral logic behind his views, articulate that moral logic and call the people to a higher standard.

This is true not just of politicians. It is true of every single individual who has an alleged moral point of view.