In 1977 a pro-life Jesse Jackson compared the pro-choice position to the case for slavery in the antebellum South:
There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of higher order than the right to life. I do not share that view. I believe that life is not private, but rather it is public and universal. If one accepts the position that life is private, and therefore you have the right to do with it as you please, one must also accept the conclusion of that logic. That was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private …
When Jackson prepared to run for president as a Democrat, he dispensed with his pro-life position. I’m convinced this was a grave error, but I sympathize with Jackson’s dilemma. When I was in college, I was frustrated at having to choose between politicians who defended the rights of the unborn (usually but not always Republican) and, on the other hand, politicians who supported abortion rights but who seemed ready to do so much more to help the poor.
I eventually came to see a couple of things that resolved the dilemma for me. First, I realized that a prudential judgment to leave more charitable work in the hands of private initiative was not morally equivalent to choosing not to protect the life of the unborn—was not morally equivalent, in other words, to viewing the matter as “above my pay grade,” as President Obama put it. That is, I came to realize that the decision to neglect the government’s core role of protecting the life of some of its citizens (the unborn) was vastly worse than the decision to push for less government involvement in helping the poor.
The other thing that helped me resolve my love-the-poor/love-the-unborn dilemma—and this came into focus only as I began to connect my good intentions with a study of economic history—was this: The well-intended government poverty programs from the 1960s and ‘70s have had many unintended consequences, consequences that have done much to hurt poor communities over the long-term—whether in inner cities or in places like rural Appalachia. If you believe in the sanctity of all human life, including the life of the unborn, but you hold your nose and support pro-choice candidates who support current or even increased government levels of federal spending on welfare programs, I urge you to watch this six-minute video featuring experienced Christian poverty fighters. It’s entitled “How Not to Help the Poor.”
Watch it. Pray about what you see and hear. Then allow whatever you find insightful there to inform and guide you as you discharge your duty as a citizen of a nation dedicated to the proposition that all humans are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.