When voters decide which candidates to elect to public office, they often consider a range of important political issues. But not all issues should carry the same weight. Abortion is different from other issues in three ways.
First, abortion is a rejection of human equality. An entire class of innocent human beings (those who are in the embryonic and fetal stages of life) are excluded from the basic protection of the law. In no other area (with the exception of euthanasia and the treatment of human embryos in vitro) does our society deny some human beings the status of “persons” who have legal rights. Other issues involve debates about (for example) how best to improve health care for our nation, or how best to keep us safe from foreign threats. Abortion is about who counts as one of us—a member of our political community—in the first place.
Second, abortion is a denial of the right to life. It is the intentional killing of human embryos or fetuses. Human embryos and fetuses are living human organisms (members of the species Homo sapiens) at the earliest developmental stages. And all human beings—regardless of age, size, ability, dependency, or the desires and decisions of others—have an equal dignity and right to life. Abortion, then, is a serious injustice, yet it is legal and accepted by much of our society. Politicians disagree about (for example) how best to deal with gun-related violence. But no one thinks such violence is OK or should be legalized and encouraged by the government. The same cannot be said about the violence of abortion.
Third, abortion is the destruction of life on a truly massive scale. An entire industry is devoted to the killing of human beings in utero. More than one million unborn children are killed in the United States each year. Abortion is, by a large margin, the leading cause of human death in our country. Cancer and heart disease (for example) are tragic and should be fought with compassion. But the sheer scope of abortion separates it from other social harms.
Both the moral gravity and the scale of abortion, then, make it a uniquely significant issue in American society today. At stake is equality. At stake is the right to life. At stake are many, many human lives.
Not all political issues are equal. Human beings are equal, and that's why abortion is such a weighty problem for our society.