Abortion as Political Profit: the Unspoken Consensus

September 22, 2015

There is a timely yet potentially endangered bill making its way from the House to the Senate, intended, as its name suggests, to protect the pain-capable unborn past 20 weeks.  (It is not my purpose here to analyze the bill at length, but as an aside it is interesting to note that the rape and incest exceptions still require an attempt to allow the survival of the child.)

Photo by Fibonacci Blue
While protection of the vulnerable is always timely, this is particularly so in light of the recent attention put on Planned Parenthood’s role in the procurement of fetal organs (for anyone needing an overview, Sam Sawyer has been providing excellent in-depth coverage in America), which has become something of a teachable moment in terms of the inescapable humanity of fetal lives, whether exploited for profit or ideology or simply to anesthetize the conscience.  Which motive provides the best explanation is a question of secondary importance at most.  It was already known to supporters and opponents alike that abortion, like many other forms of violence, is a lucrative business.  Just how lucrative, or even how legal, the practices of such a business are is less significant than the commodification of human lives – and deaths – in the first place.

Photo by Briancua 
Pro-life legislation is of course endangered due to politics-as-usual, and not only in the more immediately obvious ways, since violence such as abortion is profitable not only financially but also politically.  For Democrats, most obviously, it is a highly visible litmus test of party orthodoxy.  Some individuals and organizations, most notably Democrats for Life, are making an admirable albeit Sisyphean effort to change this, but the extent to which they are ostracized by their party’s rank-and-file only underscores the immense political advantage of toeing the party line – and the political punishment for those who don’t.

What is less often acknowledged, for reasons that serve both parties’ interests, is that Republican officials have their own vested interest in the lack of visible inroads against the problem of abortion. They depend on its entrenchment, as Charles Camosy points out in a recent LA Times op-ed, to fuel “the kind of anger that can fire up their base during campaign season.”  In terms of gaining or maintaining political advantage, it is currently far more profitable for Republicans to pay lip service to the pro-life cause without actually accomplishing anything.

This is what happens when political advantage over the other side – that is, partisanship – becomes an end in itself, which is exactly the state to which US political discourse has increasingly devolved.  Hence the unspoken bipartisan consensus to preserve the status quo on abortion, ironically so as each side depends on it to defeat the other.  Sadly, there is no pro-life party.

What this means is that the abolition of abortion, or anything remotely close to that, cannot be left to elected officials.  It does not in any way mean that we shouldn’t support more life-affirming legislation whenever possible, but rather that we should indeed support everything that makes a culture of life possible, such as parental leave (which Camosy argues may be necessary for the passage of the bill in question, besides being a good idea in itself), greater paternal accountability, and resources to help those who are pregnant and/or parenting.  This kind of broadening of pro-life efforts is in any case a far better option than merely putting our trust in princes (to paraphrase Psalm 146), especially while we are forced to choose more often than not between leaders whose own interest hangs on either empty promises or an open show of hostility toward a vulnerable population of human beings.

Julia Smucker

Julia Smucker writes for Vox Nova where this article previously appeared.