The Ethical Dilemma of Abortion and Voting for Donald Trump

by John Ellis

Sitting here while typing, my mail-in ballot is staring at me from the table beside my chair. Part of it is already filled out, but before completing the job there are a few state constitution amendments and county charter amendments I need to research. Until then, on the first page, serving as a reminder of the acrimonious, tribalistic time we live, the unfilled bubbles next to Donald J. Trump/Michael R. Pence and Joseph R. Biden/Kamala D. Harris are accusing me. Or, rather, the voices from both sides are accusing me. For the one tribe, failing to vote for Biden, especially since I live in Florida, is seen as me helping ensure four more years of Donald Trump. The other? Well, in their minds, refusing to vote for Trump demonstrates my lack of commitment to important social issues, specifically religious liberty and abortion.

I’ve already covered religious liberty (you can read that by clicking here). My partial objective with this article is to explain why I believe that voting or even not voting for Donald Trump moves the needle, on the federal level, extraordinarily little, if at all, where abortion is concerned. Using abortion as wedge issue is a red herring. Giving credit where credit is due, though, as a wedge issue, it’s done a phenomenal job. More importantly, and my main objective, using abortion as the sole litmus test for voting for Trump may reflect an embrace of Alinsky-style pragmatism I wrote about in the previous article, rather, and more specifically, utilitarianism. In short, using abortion as an excuse to vote for Trump is an unjustifiable compromise of Kingdom ethics.

First and foremost, I want to say this: abortion is a heinous sin. There’s no ethical room to maneuver around it. While that is true, it should be noted that abortion is a complex issue with many nuances that both sides tend to hyperbole over or ignore.

Several years ago, my wife and I had the pleasure of hearing Frederica Mathewes-Greene speak at the annual banquet for the pro-life crisis pregnancy center that we supported. Out of all of her poignant words, what pained my soul the most was her claim that the majority of women who have abortions feel pressured into it. Pressured by society, family members, friends, or their partner, the notion of “choice” is mostly a myth. One of the more heartbreaking realities of her work with post-abortive women, Mathewes-Greene revealed, is the number of women who weep that they wouldn’t have had an abortion if someone, anyone, had come alongside them and said, “I’ll be here for you after the birth of your child.”

As has been convincingly argued by others, pro-life is more – much more – than anti-abortion. To be clear, pro-life must include anti-abortion, but if that’s where it ends, it’s not pro-life. Many of Trump’s policies, and Republican policies at large, are not conducive to the flourishing of single mothers. I’m not saying that the Democrats don’t have their own glaring issues in this area, because they do. But I’m writing about why I believe Christians shouldn’t vote for Trump. However, since my concern in this article is solely trained on the anti-abortion arguments as justification for voting for Donald Trump, I’m not going to interact with the discussion concerning the broader definition of pro-life or tangential policy failures.

The political bogeyman that both sides use to scare donors into opening their wallets and voters into the false security of the voting booth is Roe v. Wade. I’m told that if I’m serious about protecting pre-born humans, I will hold my nose, vote for Trump, and watch, with much thankfulness, as his SCOTUS picks tear down Roe v. Wade. So, let’s look at that.

At the moment, the Court is supposedly divided evenly. Four on four, as it were. It seems highly probable that in a month or so the Court’s evenness at the moment will be tipped in favor of the conservatives after Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation. At that point, it will be five against four, supposedly. Assuming that “on paper” advantage holds true in real life, Roe v. Wade is not long for this world anyway, right? Trump’s accomplished his pro-life mandate; no need to sully myself any further by supporting him. Well, not so fast, I know. I get it. Chief Justice John Roberts has betrayed conservatives’ trust time and time again. And who knows how Gorsuch would vote. I doubt even he knows. That “on paper” advantage isn’t as solid as anti-abortion advocates would like. Again, I understand that, but let’s walk through what would happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Once overturned, the legality of abortion would become a state issue. California, without question, would legalize abortion before the ink was dry on SCOTUS’s decision (if it’s not already codified in California law or in the state constitution). New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, and other staunchly blue states would follow suit. Alabama, South Carolina, Arkansas, and other staunchly red states would swiftly outlaw abortion (if they haven’t already done so). After prolonged, hard fought legislative battles, Texas and Florida would, I suspect, outlaw abortion. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if the decision swung the other way in those two politically and demographically complicated states. The point being, overturning Roe will not make abortion illegal at the federal level. Only an act of Congress could do that. This country would become even more angrily divided by cultural lines drawn between states in which abortion is legalized and states in which it is banned.

As way of a shortcut, I’m not a Federalist. That may help partially explain why I find overturning Roe an unconvincing reason for voting for Trump. On the flip side, my decision to not vote for Donald Trump is not based on numbers I’ve seen that demonstrate that overturning Roe would have a negligible effect on the abortion industry in America. By way of introducing you to that argument and highlighting my “red herring” claim from above, think about the states that would legalize abortion versus the states that would outlaw it. The majority of abortions already take place in blue states. Add mobility and “backroom abortions” into the mix, and it’s not hard to see how the needle on the numbers wouldn’t really move all that much. But, again, that’s not the reason why I’ve decided not to vote for Trump; pragmatism is pragmatism and measuring the number of babies saved versus the number of babies killed is, frankly, kind of disgusting.

For me, it’s about ethics devoid of pragmatism and utilitarianism, and informed and controlled by Jesus from top to bottom instead. Think of it this way: In philosophy 101 classes, professors dangle things like the train switch problem before undergrads eager to demonstrate their philosophical savvy. Hollywood makes movies with plots that are based on the supposed ethical dilemma.

The train switch problem (also known as the trolley problem) is well known. There are several variations of it, but they all boil down to being faced with the choice of allowing a large group of people to die or deciding to save the many at the (possible) expense of the life of one innocent person. Interestingly, philosopher Philippa Foot is widely credited with formulating the trolley problem in 1967 and introducing it into the debate over abortion with the purpose of analyzing and critiquing the principle of double effect. While acknowledging Foot’s Aristotelian virtue ethics, as well as recognizing that her moral theories were shifting targets of contradictions[1], at its core the train switch problem is a utilitarian argument, especially in the ways in which it’s frequently interacted with and employed. In the same vein as Judith Jarvis Thomson’s unconscious violinist argument, the train switch problem is used to provoke an emotional response in people with the intention of leading them to see the ethical weight carried by the greater good. When asked, most people say that they would choose to throw the switch to save the many at the expense of the one. That decision seems intuitive, but keep in mind, in the heat of the moment it seemed intuitive to Peter that denying Christ would be the correct course of action considering the possible consequences. Utilitarianism should no more be a part of the Christian’s ethical tool bag than pragmatism. And causing even a larger number of people to howl, including many Christians, neither should utilitarianism’s parent consequentialism.[2]

By way of deepening what I mean, think of it in terms of another ethical problem in which a man bursts into your office, hands you a gun, and tells you that if you don’t shoot your coworker he’ll blow up an elementary school filled with hundreds of students. Utilitarianism pushes you to kill your coworker. The pain and consequences for the broader community if your coworker dies are a drop in the bucket compared to the societal trauma that will be caused by the death of hundreds of school children, not to mention the balance of hundreds of deaths versus one. Stretched far enough, and make sure you read this loudly so as to drown out the protestations, and even consequentialism provides ethical cover to shoot your coworker.[3]

Christianity, on the other hand, says that you do not have the right to take the life of your coworker. Your motives are not a confounder that alters the ethic. Neither is the result. Only the state is allowed to take the life of an image bearer, and even then, only within biblically prescribed parameters.

Now, some may be thinking, “But this is why I’m voting for Trump. I’m voting to preserve lives.” Yes, but ethical problems do not have to adhere to the most obvious one-to-one parallel to be instructive.

In my scenario above, saving the school full of children can be replaced by abortion, obviously. What may be less obvious is that Trump can be plugged into the command to shoot your coworker. And that brings us to the concept of single-issue voting. Bear with me, it will all make sense in the end (I hope).

I am a single-issue voter. To clarify, I am a multiple single-issue voter. For example, I can not in good conscience vote for someone who supports abortion. However, even if the other candidate opposes abortion, there are other issues that I cannot in good conscience vote for. I believe that Donald Trump’s character (which I covered in this article) and many of his policies violate Kingdom ethics. Sacrificing those ethics for the sake of saving the lives of pre-born babies is utilitarianism. Just like it would be unethical/immoral for me to shoot my coworker to save a school filled with students, it’s unethical/immoral for me to vote for Trump to secure potentially pro-life judges.

In conclusion, I want to remind you that I’m not writing to those who believe that Donald Trump is a good man who is promoting righteous policies/practices across the board but who has a few rude picadilloes. My intended audience are those who admit that they will have to hold their nose to vote for him. Believing, as I do, that Trump’s character renders him unfit for the office of President of the United States and that he supports and promotes policies that violate Kingdom ethics should be all that you need to know before stepping into the voting booth. Do not be swayed by those who question the pro-life commitment of those who are #NeverTrump. They are the ones who are ethically/morally compromised.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] If you read Foot’s writings, you can be forgiven if you conclude, “Wait, what?”

[2] Something interesting to take note of is that none of these ethical theories – virtue ethics, consequentialism, utilitarianism, certain versions of deontological ethics, et al. – are necessarily mutually exclusive. And please know that I am internally warring with myself to stay on point and not drift from my thesis for this article. Tackling ethical theories in a broader more comprehensive way will have to wait … is what I’m telling myself.

[3] You’re not responsible for the man’s actions, no matter how much guilt and trauma you carry forward if hundreds of children die. You’re only responsible for your own actions.

4 thoughts on “The Ethical Dilemma of Abortion and Voting for Donald Trump

  1. You’re going to look back one day and be utterly ashamed of this. You are at the point of your life it seems where you believe you are some Aristocrat of enlightenment, above the soil of people like Donald Trump for whom you refuse to vote.

    Today is not the day for your shame nor you’re genuine Enlightenment. Today you ride high in the saddle, glancing at reflections of yourself left and right that you might steal a peek and indulge and the narcissistic exercise of self admiration.

    John, your biggest problem is that you are a reactionary to all of the Bob Jonesy things that you didn’t like, that rubbed you the wrong way. Dogma is anathema to you and if there’s one thing Donald Trump is, he is dogmatic.

    This isn’t philosophical for you this is personal. You are hiding behind philosophical arguments and rationalizations in order to refuse to be moved by the reality that allowing somebody else, a far-left Democrat, to be placed into office by refusing to vote for Donald Trump will give us policies that threatened the freedom of Christians and will have potentially long-term and a permanently disastrous effects of the United States as a country of Liberty, particularly religious liberty, which was assaulted non-stop for 8 years by the Obama Administration.

    You have selective ethics and selective morality and that is the Hallmark of a self-righteous individual. You’re the kind of yellow spine that doesn’t fight Wars or is willing to kill in order to preserve your community’s freedom from Intruders. You are a pacifist which is a detestable kind of citizen. One who wants the benefits a freedom without paying the price.

    Donald Trump is many things but you miss so terribly bad that he is at War, he is fighting a war. And when you fight Wars you get muddy and dirty and there are bodies everywhere, metaphorically speaking in this case, there is pain, agony and the enemies screaming bloody hell and further, there is collateral damage. It is the cowards that have run the Republican party and the conservative side of politics who brought us this necessity for refusing to stand up, so Donald Trump is having to stand up with 30 years a failure to compensate for, this is why he is as brutal as he is. These are not Concepts for the dainty or faint of heart.

    Are you so naive that you think politics is some congeniality contest, some Arena of honest self-regulation among all the parties and a place of unilateral ethics and statesmanship.? Have you not been paying attention, John?

    Have you not paid attention to the last 3 years and the Obama Administration weaponizing the federal government in order to legitimize a fabrication of the Russian collusion against Donald Trump in order to delegitimize his presidency? That’s called treason John.

    But you have so much respect for Obama and his administration because they were nice and congenial. Good Lord John, it’s one thing to be born a sucker but it’s another thing to deliberately stay one. Open your eyes.

    John, you really think you are making a contribution. It’s clear you believe this. I’m telling you right now you are either going to mature in your thinking and look back and understand what a fool you have been in your thinking or you’re going to keep going down this road and it’s an absolute guarantee you are going to become more and more to the left because that’s how it goes. One never stays straight down the middle like you think you’re doing. You are not original. I’ve been around many, many decades nd I’ve seen you in many times. It’s the same play the same character just a different actor you need to wake up John. Your high horse may feel good today but you need to get your feet on the ground because there’s a war going on.

    Finally, as a matter of content exactly what policies of Trumps are you talking about that violate Kingdom ethics? And by the way which policies support Kingdom ethics, have you taken time to do a list of the ones that support Kingdom ethics? I doubt you have.

    Before answering that why don’t you explain to your audience exactly what you mean by “Kingdom ethics”. Define Kingdom ethics. Explain where they are contained in the Bible. Explain how you have come to conclude that there is such a doctrine of Kingdom ethics that apply to the United States.

    Then, justify your assertion with good Theology and good documentation about the policies and why the Bible forbids or condemns Trump’s policies because I doubt you can do that and if you can find something it’s going to be of such a little weight compared to all of the good but he is doing that by the time you’re finished doing it you’re probably not going to want to publish it anyway because you know how it will look.

    I’d be stunned if you had the willingness to publish this but at least you read it.

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    1. Alex, three quick things: 1. Per usual, you did not interact with my actual thesis and arguments. As such, while not a one-to-one parrallel, I think that my recent “Gish Gallop” article has application for you. 2. I did not vote for Biden and I would not vote for Obama. So, I’m not sure what you mean by my supposed respect for Obama and his administration. I do not respect administrations that advocate for abortion – something that should be easily induced from statements I’ve repeatedly made. 3. (and referencing #1), I clearly stated in my article whom my intended audience is. It is clearly not you. Therefore, I felt no need to detail my complaints with Trump’s policies nor articulate Kingdom ethics because I wrote to those who already share a level of agreement with me to the point that renders an even higher word count unnecessary (in fact, once again causing me to think that you may only read the title before jumping into the comment section, I explained who my audience is in the article). I’ll say this, though, never have I ever said nor implied that Kingdom ethics apply to the United States. Kingdom ethics apply to Christians living in the United States or China or France or wherever God has placed His people. Whether you agree with how I define/apply Kingdom ethics or not, it seems bizarre to me that anyone claiming the name of Christ would blanche at the prospect of applying Kingdom ethics towards their life and, specifically, their vote. Really bizarre.

      P.S. (here’s a bonus point for you) I’m quite thankful for Bob Jones University and what I learned during my time there. While not perfect, BJU and many of my BJU professors played a large, positive role in my theological and philosophical journy – something that can also be induced from my articles (as evidenced by the “hate” I’ve received over the years from anti-BJUers who are mad at how I write about the school). Again, though, I suspect that you do not actually read what I write.

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    2. To make it easy for you, here’s the “Gish Gallop” article – and one more thing that I forgot to address – you say that dogma is anathama to me. That accusation crashes and is obliterated by the fact that in the very article you commented on, I made dogmatic propositional statements. For funsies, I won’t give them away; I want to see if you can find them, as way of testing whether or not you understand what dogma (much less propositional statement) means: https://practicallyknowntheology.com/2020/07/31/hydroxychloroquine-gish-gallops-and-ignoring-thesis-statements/

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