Why a President’s View on Abortion Does Not Matter

I am pro-life, in the fully orbed definition of that term. This means that i am against abortion, against the death penalty, but for food stamps, WIC, Headstart, healthcare and education, which gives human beings (who i believe are sacred because they are created in the image of God) the ability to become useful, contributing members of society.

I have conservative friends who then ask me how i can support a candidate for president who is not against abortion (or as they self label: pro-choice). I use that phrasing very deliberately, because it is not true that all who are pro-choice are actually pro-abortion. Those of us who believe that life begins at conception often tend to lump everyone who disagrees with that premise together. That is not a fair characterization because it’s actually possible to believe that abortion is not a good thing and believe it is wrong, while also believing that this is not an issue which the law should prohibit. That is not my position, but i can understand the reasoning.

I have three points i want to make on the issue of abortion.

The difference between sin and illegality.

I believe that this is a sin issue. That abortion is a sin. Not all (or even very many) sins are made illegal. Lust is not illegal, neither is greed, pride, hate, anger or even adultery. Some sins have been made illegal when there is a consensus by society that the sin is so harmful to society that it should be prohibited legally. What i am trying to do here is show the difference between something which is a sin and something which society has prohibited by law. Often those two things are not the same. Sometimes they are.

Jesus and the writers of the New Testament were silent on the issue of abortion. It’s not that it didn’t exist at that time, because it did, along with the infanticide of unwanted children. Why didn’t Jesus or the New Testament writers address this? My opinion is that in Jewish society, this was considered a sin without question, but that under Roman law, it was not illegal. Much like today. The difference being that in America, we have legal recourse to change the law through the legislatures and courts. The society at the time of Jesus had no such recourse under Roman law.

So, you may ask, “If that is so, then why doesn’t the president’s view matter?” Glad you asked.

How can i disagree with abortion, yet still think this is not an issue for a president?

I can believe that abortion is sin, while also recognizing that in America, we have delegated the decision as to what is legal or illegal to the legislatures and the courts. My ability to influence the legislatures and the courts is limited to my right of free speech and to the ballot box. In America, both of those are legitimate ways to try to influence the law.

Because of the dichotomy between what is sin and what is legal, it is very possible for someone to believe something is wrong while also knowing it to be legal. This is true of abortion and also of many, many other issues.

So what about the president? The president is a member of the executive branch of government which is the branch that has no direct effect on whether abortion is legal or illegal in America. In short, the president does not have the authority or ability to do anything about abortion under our governmental system. He can’t make the laws or adjudicate the laws.

But what about his ability to appoint judges and supreme court justices? Once again, I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a look at some of the history of Supreme Court appointments:

Presidents                                                 Justices Appointed

Nixon                                             Nixon appointed 4 justices, all of                                                          whom participated in Roe v Wade

Ford                                               Ford appointed 1 justice

Carter                                            Carter did not appoint any justices

Reagan                                           Reagan appointed 3 justices

By the end of Reagan’s two terms as president, republican anti-abortion presidents had appointed 8 justices to the Supreme Court. 7 were still on the court when Reagan left office. (One of Nixon’s left and Reagan replaced him for a net of 7 of the 9 justuces were appointed by Republicans. This made no impact of any kind on Roe v Wade or on the legality of abortion in America.

Bush I                                               Bush appointed 2 justices

At this point, 8 of the 9 justices on the supreme court had all been appointed by anti-abortion Republican presidents. No change in Roe v Wade occurred or on the legality of abortion.

I could go on with examples through Clinton, Bush II and Obama, but the results are the same. Every Republican president since Nixon has run on a platform saying he would appoint justices that would overturn Roe v Wade. It hasn’t happened because no one, even a president, can predict or control what a Supreme Court Justice will do. The obvious conclusion is that there is nothing that a president can do, either directly or indirectly, to impact abortion law in America. The justices each have their own views on the constitution and on the law, and they don’t respond to pressure from anyone.

So who does matter and what does that mean?

Almost all of the abortion laws in America are written by state legislatures. If you want to make an impact on abortion laws, the way to do that is by electing those who agree with your position to state legislative offices. However, they can only make adjustments to the how and when of abortion, not to its ultimate legality. The only way a change in the legality of abortion could ever take place with certainty would be by a constitutional amendment, since the Roe v Wade opinion is based on a right to privacy the supreme court has ruled exists in the constitution.

Here’s the point: It does not in any way matter who is elected as president as far as an impact on the legality of abortion. There is nothing any president can do to change the law as it currently exists. That can only happen in small ways by state legislatures, and in a large way by a constitutional amendment.

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