The Basic Argument
Step 1: If you are pro-life on the absolute principle that innocent life should not be taken (regardless of consequences), then that principled stance should lead you to adopt either (a) pacifism (the renunciation of violence & war) or at the very least (b) some version of just war theory.
Step 2: No presidential candidate embraces either pacifism or even a more minimal just war theory (which might put the brakes on a might-makes-right stance). Instead, the basic policy continues to be the same logic that led to Hiroshima, pictured at right: the death of innocent persons is sometimes necessary to achieve a so-called "greater good."
Conclusion: If you vote based on the absolute principle of protecting innocent life, then you cannot vote for either Gov. Romney or Pres. Obama. If you do vote for Gov. Romney because he is pro-life on the issue of abortion, you cannot do so based on an absolute principle of the protection of innocent life. Instead, you are valuing one application of the principle (abortion) over other application of the principle (such as the issue of pacifism/just war).
So what's the point? Just as some Christians say that they can't vote for Pres. Obama as a matter of conscience because of his stance on abortion, so you can't vote for either Pres. Obama or Gov. Romney based on their willingness to endorse policies whose end result is the taking of innocent life. This creates different perceptions among different people .To those who focus on abolishing abortion, I look like I'm sitting back and "not doing anything" about the evil of abortion. From my perspective, many pro-lifers look like hypocrites because they apply the principle of protecting innocent life to some cases (abortion) but not to others (war and preparation for war).
For some, the above paragraphs might sound just like a bunch of technical mumbo-jumbo. Here's how I imagine it playing out in a dialogue.
An Imaginary Dialogue between a Pro-Lifer and a Pacifist
Branson: Of course I'm against abortion. But let me ask you a few questions that might help you understand where I'm coming from. Why are you against abortion? What about that particular act makes it so morally wrong?
Jerry: Well, because it takes an innocent life. Taking innocent life is murder, so obviously it's wrong.
Branson: That makes sense to me. But what if it's a case where the mother's life is in danger or there are health complications?
Jerry: Well, I admit that can complicate the situation. But I think that a Christian stance in general should be to move forward and trust that God will make a way. To set the argument up so that the only possibility is the survival of the mother or the survival of the child doesn't make room for how God often works in ways beyond what we (or our doctors) think is possible.
Branson: OK. I can see that. But what about this: what if abortion actually led to certain benefits to society. Have you ever read the book Freakonomics? In the beginning of that book, the authors show that there was a drastic decrease in crime rates in the early 1990's due to the legalization of abortion in the early 1970's. I know it sounds like Hitler or eugenics or something, but the authors weren't for this, they simply pointed out that one consequence of legalizing abortion was a lower crime rate. So, here's my question: would you say that taking of innocent life is okay if it led to a better world or better society?
Jerry: How can you even ask that question! I'm appalled! I don't care what the consequences are, the taking of innocent life is wrong! We don't base our actions on consequences, we base them on whether something is right or not, and the taking of innocent life is wrong. That's a ridiculous question.
Branson: So, just to be clear, you are saying that you can't vote for somebody who would be for the taking of innocent life, and that's why you can't vote for somebody who supports abortion in any form.
Jerry: Yeah. Thanks for descending from your pretentious academic ivory tower and getting the message through that thick skull of yours.
Branson: Thanks, Jerry. OK, now here's where you start to dislike me again. So the principle behind your position is this: first, taking innocent life is wrong. Second, even in situations that look hopeless, we shouldn't set it up so there's only two options--kill or die--but trust that God might provide a way out. And, even in that situation, we'd rather sacrifice our own lives than take an innocent life.
Jerry: That seems like a fair summary.
Branson: OK. I hope, then, that you can see how this translates into issues of war. I think everybody agrees that taking innocent life is wrong. That's something that everyone, including the military, takes seriously. But, similar to what you say is a faulty approach to abortion, most wars are waged on the premise that there are only two options: kill or be killed. But this way of setting things up--kill or be killed--is a false dilemma in the case of abortion and in war, in part because it leaves no room for God to act in ways we don't expect. The Christian pacifist isn't under any delusions about the goodness of humanity; quite the opposite--the Christian pacifist recognizes that suffering and death are often the result of following through on loving our enemies. If the choice is to kill (especially innocent life) or be killed, then the hard words of Jesus might apply here: take up your cross and follow me.
Now on to the other point, that abortion can't be justified based on its consequences. Just war theory holds that a war is justified if the consequences lead to a better society or better world. Although it doesn't think that it's good that innocent people are killed, it does say that this might be justified, based on the outcome. So some people appeal to Hiroshima and argue that if all the innocent people hadn't died there, more people would have died overall in World War II. Or, if Gen. Sherman hadn't made his march through the South in the Civil War, we wouldn't have overcome slavery. Hopefully, Jerry, you can see why this type of argument doesn't really resonate with pacifists. The pacifist, like the pro-lifer, holds that we don't simply protect innocent life when it's convenient or when it leads to good outcomes, but that it is a matter of principle, regardless of the difficulty that may ensue from holding to that principle.
Now, here's the point. You say, Jerry, that you can't vote for someone who supports abortion based on principle. But if you strictly applied that to all life and death policies, not just abortion, then I think you could not, in good conscience, vote for either Pres. Obama or Gov. Romney.
Jerry: Well, of course I don't agree with everything a candidate does. They're not perfect; hey, they might not even be Christians.
Branson: That's a fair point. Nobody is going to agree 100% with a candidate. But the question is: what are the make-or-break issues that are so important that you can't endorse a candidate with your vote? You're telling me that the sanctity of innocent life is precisely one of those issues. And I'm just saying that, if you're against taking innocent life as a matter of principle, then you can't limit the application of that principle just to abortion. If that principle, not just abortion, is a make-or-break matter of conscience for you, then how can you in good conscience vote for a candidate whose policies on war lead to the death of innocent people?
What to do when no one represents you
"Instead of asking about one's action, 'If I do this how will it tip the scales...?,' one rather asks, 'In a situation where I cannot tip the scales, on what other grounds might I decide what to do?"