Republican Party can be wrong about guns but also right about abortion

If GOP is to be credibly anti-abortion, it has to stop preaching sturdy individualism in everything else

The US Republican Party can sometimes be right. It was Republicans who opposed the enslavement of human beings in the southern states in the 1860s.

Republicans today are right about abortion, too. It does not mean that they are right about much else. It does not mean that all of them are right about abortion for the right reasons. It does not even mean that Republicans being right about abortion will prove to be of long-term benefit to the anti-abortion movement unless they are willing to change other entrenched positions.

What it does mean, right now, because Roe v Wade has been overturned, is that many human beings will get to be born that otherwise would have died. All Americans have a heavy responsibility, no matter where they place themselves on the anti-abortion/pro-choice spectrum, to ensure that those children have decent lives.

It is wryly amusing to read, say, Ronald Brownstein in the Atlantic suggesting that the US is now effectively two entirely different nations uneasily occupying the same geographic space. He believes that the US has effectively recreated the politics of the Jim Crow era, where the dominant party has skewed the political playing field to achieve a level of dominance far beyond its popular support.

One of his few references to the fact that it was the pro-slavery southern Democratic Party that not only defended enslavement but sought to expand it to other states, comes in a bracket containing six words — “segregationist Democrats then, conservative Republicans now”.

All political parties can lose their way and endorse abhorrent views. In the 1860s, it was the southern Democratic Party. I believe the Democrats today have lost their way just as surely on abortion, excluding some from human rights because of their stage of development.

The 1860s Republicans had decidedly mixed motives for opposing the enslavement of people. The Radical Republicans proposed immediate, total abolition of slavery. They fought hard for decent conditions for formerly enslaved people. Many of them were Christian reformers.

Abraham Lincoln was therefore known as a moderate Republican because, initially, he proposed that slavery should be left to individual states.

The five supreme court Justices who voted to overturn Roe v Wade are perhaps closer to Lincoln’s original prewar position. They have returned decisions about a practice that they find abhorrent and in breach of human rights to the individual states.

Other Republicans in the mid-1800s were primarily enraged about the economic advantages conferred on those who practised enslavement. Free labour meant they could undercut those who paid their workers. They also resented that the wealthy southerners could buy up land and prevent others from establishing homesteads.

So Republicans opposed slavery for many reasons, some praiseworthy, some self-interested. The same is true of opposition to abortion. (Some Democrats oppose abortion, too, but the Democratic Party is a cold house for them.)

Hypocritical views

Some today oppose abortion because it destroys human life and is damaging to women, as it suggests that a solution to the structural discrimination against women lies in ending another human’s life.

Some oppose abortion while simultaneously holding hypocritical and contradictory views, for example, on gun control. In Brownstein’s article in the Atlantic, he points out that gun deaths are almost twice as high per capita in Republican-controlled states, and the maternal mortality rate is twice as high as well.

Holding hypocritical and contradictory positions does not invalidate the wrongness of abortion, but it does dramatically weaken the ability to influence others.

Some pro-choice activists are motivated by very good reasons. Nonetheless, even leaving aside that every abortion ends a human life, pro-choice activists are effectively counselling despair. The alleged need for abortion stems from a world view whereby, in many circumstances, pregnancy is a catastrophe that has the capacity to derail a woman’s life.

There are other solutions that do not involve taking human life. The US’s maternity leave is a disgrace. Only nine states legislate for paid maternity leave and then only for 12 weeks. Childcare workers (who are primarily women and disproportionately African-American women) are paid so badly that many qualify for public assistance programmes. These issues need to be tackled.

Being pregnant or ending a pregnancy is framed purely as a personal choice as if it exists in some kind of bubble apart from these kinds of pressures. This lets society completely off the hook regarding change at the systemic level. If the Republican Party is to be credibly anti-abortion, it has to stop preaching sturdy individualism in everything except abortion.

Complex structural injustices can never be solved solely by individual choices. The kindly plantation owner who treated his enslaved humans well was still supporting enslavement.

All analogies are flawed. Abortion is not the same as slavery. But in abortion, as in enslavement, the only answer is abolition. But that cannot happen without structural change, so that unchosen pregnancy never has to mean the end of a woman’s prospects of a decent life.

That is a dream worth uniting around, surely? The Democratic Party changed its views radically for the better once before. They can do it again. So can Republicans.