Should we vote “pro-life” in this election?

Some people are forcefully exhorting the rest of us to make “pro-life” our chief, or even sole, concern in this Canadian election. To this advice, I reply with firm equivocation. Yes, we should. And no, we shouldn’t.

On the yes side: As a Christian, and as just a reasonably decent human being, of course I’m on the side of life. But I’m on the side of all life, not just the life of babies in wombs.

Let me clear: I’m firmly conservative when it comes to abortion, and I remain scandalized that Canada, alone among what anyone might call “developed” countries, has no law regulating abortion. Polls show that a lot of Canadians are uncomfortable with that stark reality as well.

But I’m also scandalized by child poverty in Canada. In Canada. And by our inviting immigrants to Canada and then failing to help them integrate properly into Canadian life. And by the delay of justice, let alone compassion, for the needy among our indigenous neighbours.

I’m furious about painfully long wait times in our health system. I’m angry about lousy support for our educational institutions and crippling student debt. I hate dodging potholes and fearing that bridges across the country aren’t going to remain standing.

I’m outraged by Bill 21 in Quebec, and Ontario physicians being refused conscience rights, and Alberta Christian schools being compelled to sponsor clubs at cross-purposes with their Charter-protected religious convictions.

And then there’s, you know, the planet.

So there is a lot of life out there to be “pro,” and the wise person weighs it all up as best he or she can and votes for the party and the candidate most likely to improve things the most.

And that brings us to my other answer about voting pro-life: No, we shouldn’t.

I lived in Ronald Reagan’s America, from 1980 to 1988, and then two years under the first President Bush. I saw the Religious Right being promised, over and over, real action about abortion in exchange for their votes, and I saw them get nothing in return.

We saw the same (no)thing with the second Bush president. Ironically, with President Trump defunding Planned Parenthood somewhat, we have seen some actual action on that front—but at such terrible, terrible cost to so much else of value on the political agenda.

Meanwhile, Canadian prolifers gravitated toward the Harper Conservatives in hopes that his purported stealthy and strategic evangelicalism would eventually result in a majority government that would bring in a new era of abortion regulation—only to be disappointed again and again. And now that we have a new Conservative leader who reads almost verbatim from the Harper songsheet, we have precisely zero national leaders who will come within a kilometer of legislating about abortion.

So despite the hard lobbying by the pro-life groups—which is, to be sure, their business—I see no reason to believe that a vote determined by anti-abortion hopes is anything other than wasted. Yes, electing a few more prolife candidates will make a little more noise, but without political will, there’s no way they’ll make a difference. And without a political sea change there won’t be that will.

Someday soon the polls might swing more decisively away from abortion. Charles Camosy’s interesting study of the American situation makes one wonder about what might also happen up here. But until they do, should we vote pro-life?

Of course we should.

And of course we shouldn’t.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 800 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book has been released this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).