Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Pro-lifers should be strategic voters

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 31, 2012


Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man,
in whom there is no help.
Psalm 146:3

Every four years, millions of Americans are caught up in the excitement of a presidential race. This is understandable, even desirable; it is the sign of a healthy democracy at work. But in a political campaign, as in any other contest, some people lose their perspective.

The stakes are very, very high in the 2012 presidential election. This race has major implications for the central moral struggle of our time: the clash between a culture of life and a culture of death. If American voters choose the wrong leader the results could be disastrous—not just for our country but for the entire world. However, it is grossly unrealistic to think that if we select the right man, our battle will be won. We might fear a devastating loss, but we cannot reasonably hope for a final victory. We can lose, but we cannot win.

Full Disclosure: On Election Day I plan to cast my ballot for Mitt Romney. I will do so not because I think he is a political savior or that he is a great leader in the pro-life cause, but because I think he is likely to do far less damage to that cause than President Obama.

Some people vote because they are enthusiastic about their preferred candidate. Others vote because they are frightened by the other candidate. And sometimes people vote just to send a message. These are all legitimate uses of the franchise.

Once I was a loyal Republican. My support for Ronald Reagan was whole-hearted. But in the late 1980s, when I moved back to my native Massachusetts, I found that local Republican leaders did not share my fundamental beliefs. I drifted away from the GOP, began voting for third-party candidates, and eventually became a third-party candidate myself.

In Massachusetts, you understand, there’s not much risk in casting a ballot for a third-party candidate. The state’s party registration is as lopsided as its prevailing political ideology, so that the liberal Democratic candidate nearly always wins. My vote for a third-party candidate will not affect the outcome of a race, so I often conclude that the best use of my ballot is to send a message.

This year could be different. This year the incumbent Republican(!) Senator Scott Brown has a real chance at re-election, despite stiff competition from a liberal Democrat, Elizabeth Warren. This year my vote could conceivably affect the ultimate result. But despite my old Republican ties, I cannot find any enthusiasm for Brown’s candidacy. You see, he supports legal abortion on demand. I will not vote for a candidate who supports legal abortion on demand.

In a televised public debate, Brown emphasized his support for the Roe v. Wade decision, and said that there was no significant difference between himself and Warren on the issue. Warren disagreed, and indeed her position is more extreme. She supports partial-birth abortion, taxpayer funding for abortion, and abortion for teenagers without parental notification; on all those issues Brown takes the other side. On the abortion issue, then, Warren is worse than Brown. Since I find Brown’s positions on other issues (such as taxes and spending) more congenial than Warren’s, I could easily justify a vote in his favor.

But I won’t do it. I won’t—repeat, will not—are you listening? absolutely refuse to—vote for a candidate who supports legal abortion on demand. And if my decision to leave that line blank puts Elizabeth Warren in the US Senate—well, maybe next time the Republican Party won’t take my vote for granted.

Yes, I realize that another Democratic vote in the Senate might mean confirmation for the Supreme Court nomination of a Democratic President Obama, or rejection for the nominee of a Republican President Romney. But in his campaign advertisements Brown has boasted about his “bipartisan” credentials, and how closely he has worked with President Obama. Can I trust him to resist the pressure from the liberal media in Massachusetts in a crucial Senate confirmation test? For that matter, can I be sure that any such test will be decisive? Keep in mind that in the years since Roe v. Wade, Republican presidents have placed 8 new justices on the Supreme Court, and 4 of them have voted to uphold the Roe decision.

In fact today, as we approach the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Republican Party leaders—even on the national stage—have no concrete plans to curb the abortion holocaust. Last week Mitt Romney released new television commercials in New Hampshire, proclaiming that he supports legal abortion in cases of rape and incest. Granted these are extreme cases, accounting for only an infinitesimal percentage of the abortions performed in the US each year. Still it is noteworthy that a Republican presidential candidate is actually advertising his support for some legal abortions.

Next week most pro-life Americans, myself included, will vote for Romney. But some pro-lifers will conclude that it is more important to send a message, just as I have concluded that it is more important to send a message in the Massachusetts Senate race. I disagree with the pro-lifers who plan to sit out the 2012 presidential contest. But then some pro-lifers in Massachusetts disagree with my plan to sit out the Senate election. These are disagreements about political judgments, not moral absolutes.

Sometimes you vote with enthusiasm, sometimes you vote in self-defense, and sometimes you vote—or don’t vote—simply on principle. The only time you “waste” your vote is when you regret giving it away to an inferior candidate.

If you believe that Candidate A is better than Candidate B—even though Candidate A is far from perfect—you might vote for A without a second thought. But if A is morally objectionable, can you still support him—even if B is still more objectionable? The answer is not always obvious.

One final point: It is one thing to vote for a flawed candidate, in the belief that he is preferable to the available alternatives. It is quite another thing to support that candidate actively: to contribute to his campaign, to write letters on his behalf, to tout his virtues, even to deny his weaknesses. Far better to expend one’s time, energy, funds, and credibility on candidates who truly deserve the support, even if they are running for less important offices. If we don’t give our full support to strong pro-life candidates who are on the lower rungs of the political ladder, we’ll never see really strong candidates at the top.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: ALC - Jan. 28, 2017 10:03 AM ET USA

    This is a sad and confusing time for faithful Catholics. However, I know that Satan sows the seeds of division and confusion. I am so heartbroken that this current Pope seems to be going out of his way to cause strife. That is not the role of a pastor. He is not being a good shepherd.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jan. 26, 2017 3:41 PM ET USA

    Thank God in His providence that the previous U.S. president did not have the sweeping powers of the Vatican. Thank him as well that the majority of U.S. citizens do not consider obedience to the national leader a matter of religious faith. I may have to start attending parish council meetings to help plan a response to the impending decision by the Vatican to close my parish. Pope Francis has referred to us as "an exception;" it seems only a matter of time before the heavy hand falls upon us.

  • Posted by: shrink - Jan. 26, 2017 4:38 AM ET USA

    A beautifully succinct summary of our plight. Thank you, Phil. I would think that the expression "ideological purge" almost captures the reality that we are now witnessing a coup.

  • Posted by: john.n.akiko7522 - Jan. 26, 2017 1:40 AM ET USA

    It looks for all the world that the Church is self-destructing. If not for my faith in the promise of Our Lord Jesus Christ, I would be close to despair. But I know that the gates of hell shall not overcome. So I wait patiently for Him to act; I just hope it is soon.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jan. 25, 2017 10:11 PM ET USA

    Faithful Catholics are torn between their love and obedience for the Vicar of Christ, and their love and obedience for the teachings of Christ. These are strange times, and we need to keep praying for each other.

  • Posted by: filioque - Jan. 25, 2017 6:54 PM ET USA

    We seem to be on an inexorable march to fulfill the prophecies of Our Lady of Fatima and Akita. May God shorten the time of the purification of His Church.

  • Posted by: impossible - Nov. 03, 2012 9:33 PM ET USA

    Phil, you've sipped some of Jeff's Kool Aid. Unless Jesus, or Mary is the candidate, the bottom line in your "let's straighten them all out" position is that morally we could always not vote, thereby, in a case like Obama help insure victory for the most morally corrupt, most anti-Catholic person who has ever been our president or ran for the presidency. Actions have consequences and so do inactions.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 02, 2012 4:38 PM ET USA

    Phil, some folks like a straight edge, others prefer serrated. Don't forget to let us know which one you choose to cut off your nose to spite your face.

  • Posted by: fwhermann3492 - Nov. 02, 2012 10:40 AM ET USA

    Your dilemma reflects an inherent shortcoming of our two-party system. Imagine a world where each of us had only two things from which to choose: 2 spouses, 2 careers, 2 neckties, 2 breakfast cereals, etc. We would rarely have any satisfaction. All the more reason for us to work toward creating more viable alternatives--like a distributist party or a dignity party (with a respect for human life as one of its core values). Would never work? We'll never know if we don't try.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Nov. 01, 2012 7:52 AM ET USA

    Good job.