Because the United States has two dominant political parties, voters are generally limited to the candidates they offer. When a voter has an issue of great important, they thus must go with the party that matches their position—even when they might otherwise disagree with that party. For example, a working-class person who might be generally better off with a Democrat in office might vote for the Republican because of their view of gun rights. As another example, a wealthy celebrity might be better off financially with a Republican in office but could decide to vote for the Democrat because of their views on birth control. Not surprisingly, abortion is an issue that tends to pull voters towards one party even when their other interests might lie largely with the other party.
Voters who are pro-choice would, obviously enough, tend to vote for Democrats—although there are pro-choice Republicans. This can hold true even for voters who might reap more financial advantage from Republican policies on taxes and regulations. Voters who are anti-abortion would generally vote for Republicans, even if the Republican policies on many other issues were contrary to their interests. Voters will also vote on this issue even when the actual candidate seems to grossly violate the voters professed values. The easy and obvious example of this is the relation between Trump and the evangelical voters. While some evangelical elites opposed Trump on religious grounds (there are, after all, some religious rules against lying and adultery) the evangelical base largely backed him because of his professed view of abortion and same-sex marriage. While Trump showed few signs of devotion or faith until it came time to win over the evangelicals, his professed devotion won many of them. Those with a cynical view of the world might claim that the evangelicals and trump were involved in a mutual exploitation society—Trump got their votes and they got Trump’s promise that he would finally make good on the decades old Republican promise of curtailing abortion. While Trump himself does not seem to have kept the anti-abortion fires burning hot, the Republican party has been steadily eroding abortion rights and so the anti-abortion evangelicals did get a return for their votes.
While gerrymandering and other such efforts to subvert actual democracy make many races mere pretenses, there are enough potentially close races in which each vote has relatively high value. As such, victory can depend on winning over a few voters. Trump, as many have noted, did very well winning over some traditionally Democratic votes. While Trump probably pushed some Republicans to voting for a Democrat, the Democrats seem to have been less effective at winning over Republicans—especially voters with strong commitments to guns and strong opposition to abortion. Democrats who try to win over Republicans by taking on Republican-style positions on guns run the obvious risk of losing the votes of Democrats. While a Democrat could try the ploy of being anti-gun in the primary and then adopting a more pro-gun stance in the general election, this would be problematic for obvious reasons, especially with the current spotlight on gun violence. Interestingly enough, the Democrats have a much better chance of trying to win over pro-life voters.
Pushing aside some of the political rhetoric and focusing just on babies, someone who is truly pro-life would favor policies and actions that minimize the death of babies and maximize both the chance of babies living and the chance that they will have the best possible quality of life. The Democrats could deliver on such pro-life policies and actions.
While Democrats are generally pro-choice, they also tend to favor such things as sex education, insurance coverage of birth control, economic justice, equal opportunity, as well as social programs for infants and mothers. Sex education and accessible birth control would generally tend to have a positive impact on reducing the deaths of babies by reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies that could lead to abortions.
There are pro-life people who oppose sex education and birth control on religious grounds; but this seems to be a fundamentally irrational position. To use an analogy, this would be like being very concerned about traffic fatalities, but adamantly opposed to driver’s education and safety equipment like seat belts and airbags. There also seems to be little theological and no moral basis for this position, but people are quite adept at seeing the smallest mote while being blind to whales. From a pragmatic standpoint, this does present a challenge that the Democrats probably could not overcome—they would lose far more votes than they would gain by opposing birth control.
Women and girls who elect to get abortions generally do not do so simply as a matter of trivial convenience—they typically do so because having a child would impose a serious burden that they cannot currently support—often for economic reasons. For example, a girl in high school would be hard pressed to complete school while working a job to pay her medical expenses and the cost of raising the child. Even a woman who has completed school and has a job can find it very challenging to pay the price of raising a child, especially since women tend to make less than men and face more challenges in their professions.
Democrats, as notes above, tend to support programs that address these challenges. If a woman could count on having her health costs covered, if she could be confident that she would be able to finish school, and if she could be confident that her professional life would not suffer, then she would presumably be less likely to have an abortion, thus reducing the numbers of babies being killed. There is also the rather important matter of quality of life for the baby—mothers who have proper health coverage and economic security can provide a much better life for their child. As such, the Democrats could claim a pro-life position that would reduce the number of abortions while increasing the quality of life for mothers and babies. This would seem to be something that pro-life voters should back, provided that the Democrats can get this message across. That said, there are some counters to this view.
One stock reply is that there is also an easy way for a pregnant woman to avoid abortion while also avoiding the burden of child care: they can put the child up for adoption. By itself, this does not address the health care costs of the pregnancy; unless some deal has been worked out as part of an adoption plan. It also does not, by itself, address concerns about quality of life for the child—while the child might end up with a family providing a good life, this might not be the case. Without proper social service support, the quality of life of the child would be largely a matter of chance. As such, voting for a Democrat who backs such services would still seem to be the right choice for the pro-life voter. This, however, still leaves a major concern in place.
While a pro-life voter might find social support appealing, there is still the obvious concern that Democrats still support the legality of abortion. As such, the Republican who says they want to curtail or terminate abortion rights will win this engagement. Or so it would seem.
A Democrat can argue that their approach is preferable to curtailing or terminating abortion rights. The reasoning is based on the evidence available from when abortion was illegal in the United States. To be specific, women still had abortions; they were simply illegal and thus more expensive and far more dangerous. To borrow a line from the gun-rights folks, when abortion is outlawed, only outlaws will have abortions. In this case, there will be many outlaws. It is, as always, interesting to note that those who argue that restrictions on guns cannot possibly solve gun problems tend to be the same people who claim that restrictions on abortion will prove effective at reducing abortions.
It can be argued that curtailing or terminating abortion would, in fact, reduce the number of abortions—just like making drugs illegal reduces the amount of drug use. The easy and obvious reply is to point out that criminalizing drugs has not meaningfully reduced drug use and has, instead, generally resulted in disaster. The same seems likely to occur with abortion—as the past has shown. This is a utilitarian position: since banning abortion would create more harm than good, the morally preferable approach is to address the factors that push women towards abortion. This is analogous to addressing the drug crisis: making drug use a crime has failed, the better approach is to address the factors that push people towards use.
While a pro-life voter might be won over by these considerations, there remains the anti-abortion voter who contends that abortion is simply wrong. From a moral standpoint, this can be seen as a deontological position—the consequences of curtailing or terminating abortion rights do not matter; what matters is that abortion is wrong and thus must be prevented. A Democrat could counter this by pointing out that curtailing or terminating abortion rights without addressing the factors that push women towards abortion would have terrible consequences and would not eliminate abortion. Women would, once again, turn to illegal abortion or travel to places where it is legal. A hard core, but honest, deontologist would accept that this is all true, but that it does not matter: what matters is that abortion is wrong and must be opposed regardless of the cost or harms inflicted. This holds even if the efforts to prevent abortion in this manner are less effective at reducing the number of abortions than the alternatives that still tolerate abortion.
The deontological voter of this sort would thus seem to be unswayable—if all that matters is opposing abortion regardless of the harms inflicted or the effectiveness of the opposition, then there can be no appeal to concerns about the harms or effectiveness. Of course, such a voter would not be pro-life—their devotion is not to life or quality of life, but to being against abortion.