Why John McCain Is Wrong about Abortion

John McCain appeared on Fox News on Sunday and offered his advice on how the GOP can recover from the defeat they suffered earlier this month (see below). In short, he says that the party needs to leave the abortion issue alone. He’s says that it’s fine to state your convictions on the matter, but don’t take any action to restrict the legality or accessibility of abortion. As far as I can tell, his position is indistinguishable from that of Mario Cuomo. You can be personally opposed, but you shouldn’t do anything that would undermine a woman’s so-called right to choose.

This advice is mistaken on a number of levels. The abortion issue is not like the gay marriage issue. The electorate is moving away from the social conservative position on marriage, but such is not the case on the issue of abortion. Polling shows that the electorate has become more pro-life over the last decade, not less so.

It may look like social conservatives lost the “abortion” debate in the last election cycle, but appearances can be deceiving. Yes, when the focus was on contraception and some unfortunate remarks about rape, conservatives lost the debate. But in the main, a substantial majority of Americans still favor restrictions on abortion. They do not support the unlimited abortion license that Roe v. Wade unleashed upon our country.

You don’t punt on first down. Likewise, neither would you shrink back from contending for life when there’s still ground to be taken in our culture’s ongoing battle over abortion. Senator McCain is now advising those in the struggle to lay down their arms. He’s advising the party to embrace a position that a majority of the country rejects. Not only that, it’s also a position that is rejected by many in the Hispanic population, many of whom are conservative on social issues. That means that Senator McCain’s position is not only immoral, it’s also bad politics.


  • BDW

    You might want to review the Gallup polling on abortion. There is little proof to back up your claim UNLESS by pro-life you mean simply a shift in preference of labels, pro-life over pro-choice.

    From Gallup:

    In 2002, 22% responded that abortion should be illegal in ALL circumstances. In 2012, that number was down to 20%.

    In 2002, 25% responded that abortion should be legal in all circumstances. In 2012, that number was unchanged, at 25%

    In 2002, 51% responded that abortion should be legal under certain circumstances. In 2012, that number slightly increased to 52%.

    The level of support for abortion rights ought to matter more than whether someone calls prefers to identify as pro-life. A close looks at the polling reveals that most Americans do not agree with the Republican Party on abortion rights nor do they agree with the Democratic Party on abortion rights.

    • Steve Tiger King

      if it is necessary for me to change my core believes to be a member of the governing party, I am content to sit on the side lines and continue to vote for the losing candidate, until the end of days. And if my present party loses sight of those core believes to become electable it will no longer be my party.

    • Denny Burk

      I’ve looked at the Gallup stats, and they support my point. I didn’t say that a majority believe that life begins at conception. I said that the majority is moving in a pro-life direction. In particular, they favor some restrictions on abortions. As you point out, the number of those favoring some restrictions is up from 51% to 52%.

      The big item to note here is that a majority favors a position that is inconsistent with the unrestricted abortion license granted by Roe. Only 25% of those polled think that abortion should be legal in all cases. In other words, only 25% hold a position consistent with Roe.

  • Rong

    Why the GOP didn’t ‘punt’ Sen. McCain out of the party years ago says volumes about what the GOP has become. It (the GOP) is certainly not the simple check box that it used to be for Christians.

  • Jim Reed

    Burk, your opinion as presented in this article troubles me.

    My concern with your opinion as presented is that it is based on a pragmatic political argument rather than a morally absolute argument. In this vein, what if the majority in the USA believed in abortion? McCain is fundamentally wrong on abortion not because of any practical consideration based in the theory of democratically granted or recognized “rights”—which is the position from which McCain argues—but because the intrinsic value and dignity of individual, personal human life as part of the reflection of the divine image and likeness begins at conception and is the source and wellspring of the rights recognized and protected in the Constitution. The rights of the individual human person precede and define the scope and application of the Constitution, not the other way around, which is the logical end of the application of your argument.

    I acknowledge that you make a passing statement regarding the morality of the issue; however, a single sentence at the end of an article in which even that moral statement is itself subordinated in context to the practical, pragmatic political consideration does not a moral argument make. This is not to say that you not agree with the moral statement or that it is not primary in your own personal consideration (I simply do not know either way) but even it is, to present the political consideration with but passing reference to the morality behind the issue is a disservice to that morality.

    I also have no problem with the presentation and consideration of a political argument regarding this issue as long as it noted that it is pragmatic and that it falls in the face of the morally absolute argument. I just think that if you hold to both the fact and primacy of the morally absolute argument, you would have done well to say so clearly and not as an afterthought. I suggest and request an edit to to clarify this if you agree.

    Please do not take this as a personal attack: it is not meant as such. I do not know you personally and in reading this article, this is the first time that I have heard of you. I do agree with your position as expressed when considered as secondary and subordinate to the moral argument; with this thought, I do appreciate the analysis otherwise. My concern is only as noted.

    • Denny Burk

      Jim, I don’t think you are reading this article very charitably. This commentary does not say nor does it imply that we should oppose abortion for pragmatic reasons. I have written countless times on this issue (see here, https://www.dennyburk.com/?s=abortion&submit.x=0&submit.y=0). I believe abortion is our great national sin, and I would believe that whether or not anyone else agreed with me. Why? Because I believe that it is taught in scripture, and there is no higher authority than scripture.

      This short post is a commentary on the foolhardy political calculation of Senator John McCain. He’s not only wrong morally. He’s wrong politically. Even by his own pragmatic standard, his advice fails.

  • Akash Charles

    It is interesting how christians are losing their influence politically in the states, perhaps the last western country to do so, soon christians will be voting for the party that will allow christians to live in peace.

    In India for example there are so many things christians oppose in all the political parties, but we just vote for the one that may prevent us from being persecuted (Not that our voices are ever heard after all we are only 3% of the population) but we do not depend on a party to support and implement our ideology the same way Americans do., ( All though we probably would if we were 25% of the population, I guess the states will become more like other countries,and no more a country people can look up to.

    • James Stanton

      We’ve never been a moral beacon other than in the eyes of puffed-up individuals here and abroad who believe in the idolatry of American exceptionalism.

      I take issue with the notion that there is a party that supports and implements a Christian ideology. The Republicans are the closest if you consider only the issues of gay marriage and abortion. But the day to day of how most Americans live could be greatly improved with Christian ideals in government but that will never happen as long as many Republicans are wedded to a Randian worldview.

    • Paula Bolyard (@pbolyard)

      I think it’s more complicated than “Christians are losing their influence” here. It’s more that we are a severely divided country with high-population liberal pockets that skew the vote and mischaracterize public opinion. In Ohio, for example, we have a Republican governor, Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature and Republicans hold every statewide office. Yet Obama won the state because of the support he received in a few heavily-populated urban areas. There are large swaths of Ohio that are indistinguishable ideologically from “Bible Belt” states.

      One of the beauties of our republic is that we can choose to live in a liberal or a conservative state. Unfortunately, over the years the federal government has become more and more powerful, violating the limited powers our Founding Fathers intended for it, so states are at the mercy of a myriad of rules and regulations that seem to multiply every year.

      • James Stanton

        We don’t get to pick and choose our population. You also can’t claim the vote is skewed or public opinion is mischaracterized if the other side turns out more voters in its dominant areas. Republicans won those majorities in Ohio in a year of political backlash and low turnout for Democrats.

        When we talk of Christians losing influence what we’re really saying is that we’re losing political power. I think if this is true it means that we should refocus how best to use our resources to serve the community and remain a moral guide. While not forsaking abortion or gay marriage I think there are countless other areas in domestic policy and foreign policy where Christians can make an impact. The trouble with public opinion today is that the social conservative side has allowed itself to become broadly defined with narrow interests and thus marginalized by all sides even on the right.

  • Paul Jacobs

    A sell out is a sell out is a sell out! Pick the subject, abortion, marriage, taxes. Like many of the “good” kings of Judah, they allowed evil in their country. They paid a high price then, and we will pay a high price now.

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.