Ohio is no longer a swing state. Donald Trump won it by eight points, twice. It has a Republican governor, and while its senators are divided between parties, his delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives is made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats. And yet, Ohio just passed a referendum on abortion rights by a margin of more than 13 points.
There is no way to turn this result around. There is no way to twist all the other pro-choice results in any other red state referendum. The pro-life movement is in a state of electoral collapse and I think I know a reason.
In the eight years since the so-called New Right emerged on the scene and Trump began to dominate the Republican landscape, the Republican Party has become less libertarian but more libertine, and libertinism is ultimately incompatible with a holistic view of the pro-life world.
I’m not saying that the pro-choice position is inherently libertine. There are many millions of Americans – including pro-choice Republicans – who come to their position through genuine philosophical disagreement with the idea that an unborn child possesses the same inherent value as any other person. But I have seen Republican debauchery with my own eyes. I know it distorts the culture of the Republican Party and red America.
The difference between libertarianism and libertinism can be summarized as the difference between rights and desires. A libertarian cares about his own freedom but also knows that this freedom ends where his own freedom begins. The entire philosophy of libertarianism depends on a healthy recognition of human dignity. A healthy libertarianism may still be individualistic, but it is also deeply concerned with both. personal virtue and the rights of others. Not all libertarians are pro-life, but a pro-life libertarian will recognize the humanity and dignity of both mother and child.
A libertine, on the other hand, is dominated by his desires. The goal of his life is to do what he wants, and the goal of politics is to give him what he wants. A libertarian is concerned about all forms of state coercion. A libertine rejects any attempt to coerce him personally, but he is happy to coerce others if it gets him what he wants.
Donald Trump is the consummate libertine. He rejects restrictions on his appetites and responsibility for his actions. The guiding principle of his view of his world is summed up in a simple statement: I do what I want. Any movement built in his image will also be libertine.
Trump’s move dismisses the value of personal character. He scoffs at personal moderation. And he is happy to impose his will on others if it gets him what he wants. Libertarianism says that your rights are more important than my desires. Libertinism says that my desires are more important than your rights, and this means that libertines are terrible ambassadors for any cause that requires self-sacrifice.
I don’t think the pro-life movement has fully taken into account the political and cultural consequences of the right’s libertine response to the Covid pandemic. It was a movement that told women out loud that they had to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, with all the physical transformations, risks and financial uncertainties that come with pregnancy and childbirth, while millions of its members did as well. They loudly rejected the minor drawbacks of masking and the low risks of vaccination, even if the best science available at the time told us that both masking and vaccination could help protect others from contracting the disease.
Worse yet, many of those same people demanded that the state limit the freedom of others so that they could live as they wanted. Florida, for example, private corporate vaccine mandates banned.
This “do what you want” spirit cost a staggering number of American lives. A 2022 study found that there were an estimated 318,981 vaccine preventable deaths from January 2021 to April 2022. Vaccine hesitancy was so concentrated in Republican America that Political affiliation was more relevant than race and ethnicity. as an indicator of willingness to receive the vaccine. There is now evidence from Ohio and Florida that the excessive death rates were significantly higher for Republicans than for Democrats after vaccines became widely available.
And this is the party that will now tell American women that respect for human life requires personal sacrifice?
It’s not just that debauchery deprives Republicans of moral authority; is that debauchery robs republicans of their moral principles. The pro-life movement could fail so decisively in Ohio only if Republicans voted against abortion restrictions. The same analysis applies to the movement’s losses in referendums in pro-Trump states like Kansas, Mountain and Kentucky.
In each state, all the pro-life movement needed was consistent Republican support, and it would have sailed to victory. Every Democrat in the state could have voted to protect abortion rights and would have lost if Republicans stood their ground. But they didn’t.
“Do as I say and not as I do” is one of the worst moral arguments imaginable. A holistic pro-life society requires true self-sacrifice. It asks women to value the life that grows within them even in the face of fear and poverty. Ask the community to rally behind these women to keep them and their children safe and provide them with opportunities to thrive. It requires both individuals and communities to elevate their own desires to protect the lives and opportunities of others.
As the Republican Party becomes more libertine, the pro-life movement will continue to lose. Of course, he will still lose to Democrats and independents, many of whom have always been skeptical of pro-life moral and legal arguments. But he will also lose in the Republican Party itself, a party increasingly dedicated to open defiance.
An ethos that centers the desires of individuals will overflow into matters of life and death. He did it during Covid, and he’s doing it now, when even Republicans reject the pro-life cause.
The challenge for pro-life America is not simply to raise more money or use better talking points. As Republican losses in Virginia demonstrate, defending even a relatively mild abortion ban (a 15-week law, not the so-called six-week heartbeat bill) is complicated. The challenge is much deeper. Pro-life America needs to reconnect with personal virtue. It has to be a model of self-sacrifice. It needs to show, not just tell, America what it would be like to value life from conception to natural death.
Today, however, the Republican Party is dominated by its id. He is pleased with your wishes. And as long as their id is in control, the pro-life movement will fail. There is no selfish path to a culture of life.