After the 2009 presidential election, the Catholic Church spent a ton of money promoting its pro-life stance by running the following ad nationwide. It was a heart-tugging appeal to “imagine the potential” that would have been squandered if our newly-elected president’s mother had decided to to have him aborted in light of the difficulties she faced in bringing him into this world:
Though many praised the ad for the power of its message, thinking pro-lifers criticized it for good reason — it is based on a consequentialist ethic that is vulnerable to a thoughtful pro-abortion argument to the opposite effect. Here’s why:
Consequentialism is a view of morality that looks at results and makes “ethical” decisions based on whether or not we like the outcomes we achieve from them. In the case of the Catholic ad above, the outcome was the first African American president. Because forgoing an abortion allowed us to achieve the result we liked, we should be against abortion. Sounds good.
But what if Barack Obama had turned out to be a street punk, drug-dealer who engaged in gangland violence and ended up in jail at age 17? Would hindsight lead us to the opposite conclusion? Would these negative consequences lead us to the conclusion that abortion is a great idea?
Absolutely not. Careful pro-life advocates insist that abortion is wrong not because of the possible consequences that may follow from it, but because of what it is in and of itself. Abortion is wrong in the same way rape, or murder, or child abuse is wrong. It is an objective moral wrong whether Barack Obama becomes president of the United States or a gangland murderer.
So, why do I bring this up today?
Take a look at the “evolving” view of abortion as articulated by today’s leading Republican presidential candidate in 1999:
In 1999, Donald Trump was “very pro-choice.” Today, he claims to be “very, very proud to say that [he is] pro-life.” What changed?
Well, during the first Republican presidential debate last fall, Trump explained:
“Friends of mine years ago were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn’t aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child. And I saw that. And I saw other instances …”*
So, maybe Donald Trump had a legitimate change of heart. I certainly hope so. But let’s just say I have reason to be skeptical. Here’s why.
In his September 3, 2015 interview with The Donald, Daily Caller editor Jamie Weinstein asked Trump specifically about his change of heart experience and if he “would have changed his view on abortion if the child [referred to above] had become a ‘total loser?'”
Donald Trump’s response:
“I’ve never thought of it. That’s an interesting question. I’ve never thought of it. Probably not, but I’ve never thought of it. I would say no, but in this case it was an easy one because he’s such an outstanding person.” (emphasis mine)
I have to accept Donald Trump’s assertion that he has “never thought of it,” but that’s not a good thing. This is where consequentialism leads. Or, as Yogi Berra might describe Trump’s “evolving view” on abortion: “When he sees a fork in the road, he takes it.”
Maybe Donald Trump would be a solid pro-life president. Maybe he wouldn’t. That’s the problem with consequentialism; you never know where you’ll end up when you follow it.
* These comments are quoted by Justin Taylor in his column of January 20, 2016 at The Gospel Coalition.