We asked our participants to reflect on “Pro-life in the Time of Trump,” and offered them the following two opposing views to consider: Charles Camosy writing the day after the election in Crux, and Marjorie Dannenfelser quoted in Susan B. Anthony List’s press release the same day. The responses we received are thoughtful, challenging and varied, and will, we hope, encourage fruitful dialogue and collaboration for life.—The Editors
Jump to: Charles Camosy Marjorie Dannenfelser Kelsey Hazzard Edward Mechmann Mary Meehan George McKenna Kristan Hawkins Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa Ellen Wilson Fielding Chuck Donovan Alexandra DeSanctis Anne Hendershott David Mills Clarke D. Forsythe Susannah Black
There is currently a mad scramble in many of my social circles to figure out why things went so wrong on Tuesday night. But before we do that, it would be prudent to pause and reflect on the question of what went wrong.
A major part of the answer must be the deeply unsettling fact that this was an absolutely terrible election for the pro-life movement.
The first bad news of the night was that physician-assisted suicide passed in Colorado by a 65% margin. This continues a trend of western, autonomy-centered liberals generally favoring assisted suicide, with eastern, social-justice centered liberals generally being more uncomfortable with the practice.
Next we learned that the death penalty, in the words of the election-results-feed at 538.com, was “quietly having a successful night.” Voters in Oklahoma strengthened their death penalty laws by adopting a constitutional amendment. Nebraska voters reintroduced capital punishment after the state legislature banned it last year. Even California voted not only to refuse to repeal the death penalty, but approved a plan to expedite it.
But the most damaging event for the pro-life movement was the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. By far.
The traditional pro-life movement has been taken in by the strategy of trying to elect national Republicans in the hope that they will pass meaningful pro-life legislation and appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.
Well before Trump became the Republicans’ nominee for president, Pasqual Emmanuel Gobry wrote a piece for The Week calling this strategy into question. He rightly points out that pro-lifers have given up far too much to the GOP and received precious little in return.
Indeed, Republican presidents have appointed some of the most stalwart defenders of abortion rights.
Enter Donald Trump.
As I’ve mentioned before on these pages, this is a man who will say almost anything to the religious right in order to procure their votes. He claims to be a Christian, but insists that he has no need to ask God for forgiveness.
He claims he will put pro-life justices on the Supreme Court, but after his supposed pro-life conversion he suggested that his pro-choice sister would make a great Supreme Court justice.
He claims to be on the side of those who want to limit abortion, but even after the election the words “pro-life” or “abortion” are found nowhere on his website. Indeed, he never even brings up the issue unless someone presses him on it.
The Babylon Bee—the hilarious Evangelical Christian version of the Onion—summed up Trump’s approach well in a recent headline: “Let’s Cut to the Chase, Evangelicals: Which Exact Lie Can I Tell You to Get You to Vote for Me?”
Even if we stopped here we could see how Trump’s support from traditional pro-life groups, and his subsequent election to the presidency, represent a defeat for the movement. But we cannot stop here. We must ask ourselves what it means now that Trump is the de facto leader and face of the pro-life movement.
This is a question I took up in a piece in the Washington Post before the election. Especially because the winning future for the pro-life movement is one which embraces a new movement that is young, feminist, and disproportionately people of color, the Donald’s rise to leadership in the pro-life movement is an absolute disaster.
I pointed out that he is particularly loathed by millennials, women and people of color, and with good reason, for Trump’s positions on issues like immigration, criminal justice reform, health care and climate change are completely alienating to huge majorities in these demographics.
His racist and sexist rhetoric and behavior—linked to sexual violence—are even more repulsive to these sections of the population.
The pro-life movement has over the years painstakingly put itself in a position where it can authentically resist the attempts of our opponents to marginalize us as led by old, white, privileged, racist, misogynist men who want to use and control women’s bodies.
But with the election of Trump—who could not fit better into that category—all of our work now risks being undermined.
Pro-life groups should immediately distance themselves from the views of our new president-elect, emphasizing without equivocation that an authentic pro-life movement cannot possibly consider him our leader.
—Charles C. Camosy is Associate Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University and author of Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation. This column is reprinted with permission from Crux (www.cruxnow.com).
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 9, 2016
Contact: Mallory Quigley, email@example.com, 703-380-6674
Washington, D.C. – Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) declared victory last night when Donald Trump won the presidential race and pro-life Republicans maintained control of the U.S. Senate. SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser offered the following comment this afternoon:
“This is an historic moment for the pro-life movement. We are poised to make the biggest legislative advances for the protection of unborn children and their mothers since Roe v. Wade was decided. With a pro-life White House and Congress there are four critical pro-life goals now within our reach: end painful late-term abortions, codify the Hyde Amendment, defund Planned Parenthood, and appoint pro-life Supreme Court Justices.
“The power of the pro-life grassroots was a huge factor in making possible a pro-life White House and Senate.
“This cycle Susan B. Anthony List set out to create the largest person to person pro-life ground game in the nation. We spent the last year talking to more than 1.6 million voters in battleground states of North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, and Missouri. We spoke to voters directly at their doors and through hard-hitting mail and digital ads. Not only did we work to turn out inconsistent pro-life voters, we identified and contacted persuadable Democrats, including one hundred thousand Hispanics.
“We educated them about the Democrats’ support for taxpayer funding of late-term abortion up until the moment of birth. And it is exactly those voters we contacted who propelled Donald Trump and Mike Pence to victory.
“Donald Trump also went on offense to expose Clinton’s extremism. The third presidential debate opened with a landmark debate over abortion. Donald Trump described well the horror of partial birth abortion. He forced Clinton to own up to the fact that there is not one circumstance in which she would protect the right to life of an unborn child—a position that is abhorrent to the majority of Americans.
“The abortion issue has consistently been on voters’ minds this election. According to Google trends, abortion was the second most searched for term during the first general election debate. In the days leading up to the election, abortion was in the top 2 issues and just yesterday, it was the number one issue voters were searching for related to both candidates.
“Now the hard work begins of making these opportunities a reality.”
Donald Trump and pro-life Senate candidates won in every state where SBA List engaged. Leading up to Election Day, SBA List reached 1.6 million pro-life voters, including 1.1 million voters contacted directly at their homes in the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Missouri.
Susan B. Anthony List and its connected super PAC, Women Speak Out so far have spent more than $18 million in the 2016 election cycle, knocking on more than one million doors in battleground states to defeat Hillary Clinton and maintain a pro-life Senate. SBA List is dedicated to pursuing policies and electing candidates who will reduce and ultimately end abortion. To that end, the SBA List emphasizes the education, promotion, mobilization, and election of pro-life women. The SBA List is a network of more than 465,000 pro-life Americans nationwide.
—Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of Susan B. Anthony List.
Actions speak louder than words. Or so I was told growing up. In the 2016 presidential election, actions fell by the wayside.
It didn’t start out that way. In early 2016, 15 female pro-life leaders signed an open letter to Republican primary voters, begging them to vote for anyone but Donald Trump .
They cited “Mr. Trump’s treatment of individuals, women, in particular”:
He has impugned the dignity of women, most notably Megyn Kelly, he mocked and bullied Carly Fiorina, and has through the years made disparaging public comments to and about many women. Further, Mr. Trump has profited from the exploitation of women in his Atlantic City casino hotel which boasted of the first strip club casino in the country. America will only be a great nation when we have leaders of strong character who will defend both unborn children and the dignity of women. We cannot trust Donald Trump to do either.
Trump’s actions were unacceptable—and that was even before sexual assault allegations against him made the headlines. Once he obtained the nomination, however, pro-life leaders changed course. They cited Trump’s promise to nominate a pro-life justice to replace Antonin Scalia, his promise to sign legislation giving our tax dollars to federally qualified health centers that didn’t perform abortions instead of Planned Parenthood, his promise to support the Pain-Capable Child Protection Act. Promises, promises, promises. Words, words, words. He has the best words, you know.
I don’t fault anyone for trying to make the best of a bad situation. The alternative, Hillary Clinton, promised to strip unborn children of even the very limited legal protections they currently possess. Her opposition to the 40-year-old Hyde Amendment, which has saved, according to a recent report by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the lives of over two million low-income Americans—including some of my friends—is particularly abhorrent.
Donald Trump may be a buffoon, the reasoning goes, but at least he won’t actively stand in the way of the right to life.
But he will—probably not by vetoing legislation or nominating bad judges, but by tarnishing the pro-life movement with both his actions and his words. Yes, there is always a risk that a candidate backed by pro-lifers will do something ill-advised on another issue, because there is no such thing as a perfect politician. But the risk Donald Trump poses is off the charts. Just in the few weeks preceding this writing, he has tweeted nonchalantly about nuclear weapons and cozied up to Vladimir Putin (who, it’s worth mentioning, is strongly suspected of ordering the murders of political opponents, including journalists).
Let us also not forget the internal damage Donald Trump has inflicted—and most likely will continue to inflict—with his divisive comments on race, gender, and religion. The pro-life movement is diverse; many of our activists identify with the plight of unborn children precisely because they themselves belong to marginalized groups. Asking a Mexican-American immigrant, a survivor of sexual assault, or a Muslim to stick with the pro-life movement, while our leaders lavish praise on Donald Trump . . . to put it mildly, that’s a hard sell.
The pro-life leaders and organizations that endorsed Trump are now in a position of power and responsibility. They will have the president’s ear. I hope they do not take that for granted, because they will not be the only ones seeking influence. White supremacist groups, some of which are organized under the “alt-right” label, have made it clear that they see Donald Trump as their champion—and they have also made it clear that they are no friends of the pro-life movement, which they despise for preventing abortions of babies of color.
It is incumbent on the pro-lifers in Donald Trump’s orbit not only to hold him to his promises on legislation and the courts, but to guide him to a holistic understanding of the rights—and dignity—that every human being inherently possesses. This will require the courage to push back when Donald Trump proposes actions that dehumanize unpopular groups. It will require restraint when his hungry ego demands to be fed; praise must be doled out only when it is earned. It won’t be easy, and I don’t envy the task.
Looking further to the future, we must prioritize building a strong slate of pro-life political candidates of whom we can truly be proud. We never again want to be caught in the situation of latching on to a nominee we didn’t back from the start. We should pay particular attention to female and minority political talent. Imagine the impact if the first female president were a pro-life feminist!
—Kelsey Hazzard is the founder and president of Secular Pro-Life, which unites people of every faith and no faith to advance the right to life. She practices law in Naples, FL.
The best thing we can say about the new administration with certainty—and gratitude—is that it is new. We can finally bid farewell to the Obama administration’s relentless ideological hostility towards unborn life, the truth about human sexuality, and religious liberty. We can be thankful for having been spared at least four more years of the same, if not worse, treatment.
The coming of the Trump administration also presents the pro-life movement with considerable opportunities and challenges. It seems clear that our issues are not high priorities for the new president, so we have to be assertive in our advocacy while cautious in our expectations. We must stay on the offensive in Congress to ensure that pro-life issues aren’t bargained away as part of any “Art of the Deal.” While we have good reason to believe that pro-life forces in Congress will succeed in strengthening the Hyde Amendment and conscience protections, we will have to look principally to key executive appointments for significant pro-life progress, especially in regulatory and enforcement matters.
The need for realistic expectations is essential when it comes to the courts. Roe v. Wade is not going to be overturned any time soon, and no new Supreme Court justice will be “pro-life” in the sense that we would use the term—that is, believing that unborn human beings are “persons” within the meaning of the 14th Amendment and thus entitled to full legal protection. No such nominee could be confirmed by the current Senate. So we have to push for the appointment of originalist judges who will adhere to the authentic meaning of the Constitution and not just make it up as they go along.
These judges would eventually hold that there is no right to abortion guaranteed in the Constitution, therefore the issue is reserved to the states to permit and regulate, or to prohibit. In the meantime, they would show more deference in applying the Casey “undue burden” standard to state abortion regulations than the Court did last June in Whole Woman’s Health. This incremental approach may be frustrating, but without a sense of what is realistically achievable, there is a danger that pro-life over-confidence could lead to a premature challenge to Roe/Casey, and, possibly, a disastrous ruling.
Another major concern is that too much attention may be paid to Washington, and not enough to the states. There is a broad tendency in modern post-constitutional America to forget that the federal government is supposed to have limited powers. The pro-life movement has made tremendous strides on the state level during the last eight years and should continue to press for more. But we can expect our adversaries to have learned from our example. This may not be a big issue in “red states,” which have already enacted many abortion regulations. In “blue states” such as New York, however, the threats to life are going to intensify dramatically, because the pro-abortion establishment anticipates that the Trump administration will roll back some of its favored federal regulations and policies. It will be up to the national pro-life movement to step up to the plate at the state level.
Efforts to legalize assisted suicide by legislation or litigation are now focusing heavily on the more liberal states, the strategy being to develop a “critical mass” of states to tip the balance and produce a new Supreme Court ruling—an end-of-life Roe v. Wade. Our opposition is very well funded and the media is on their side. Pro-life advocates in these states are going to need help from the national movement in this tough fight.
Attempts are also underway to expand abortion, ostensibly by writing Roe into state law. But the real goal is to secure the legality of any late-term abortion, permit non-doctors to perform surgical abortions, and coerce all medical professionals and institutions to cooperate. In addition to these, extremist bills like New York’s (stalled) “Reproductive Health Act” (modeled on the old “Freedom of Choice Act”) mandate insurance coverage of abortion. Restrictions on the free speech and operation of pregnancy centers are also on the horizon in states that don’t have them already. Again, we need the national movement to turn its eyes away from DC and help out.
One last thing about this coming era, which may turn out to be the most important: The new President’s default response to any challenge or opposition seems to be to escalate the level of conflict and hostility. This tendency feeds directly into and will exacerbate our polarized and antagonistic public atmosphere. The pro-life movement cannot flourish in such a climate—it is rooted in love, not conflict and animosity. We have to reject not only the egregious unjust violence of abortion and euthanasia, but also the rhetorical violence of thought and word that fosters a culture hostile to life.
Pope Francis, in his 2017 World Day of Peace Message, has offered an alternative that the pro-life movement should find a perfect fit—a call for “nonviolence as a style of politics for peace.” The Holy Father noted that “in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and . . . this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness.” His closing invocation could be a charter for a movement that would seek not just to enact laws and cut funding streams but to build a genuine culture of life: “May we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home”—a perfect pro-life agenda for the years ahead.
—Edward Mechmann is Director of Public Policy for the Archdiocese of New York.
Since my crystal ball is cloudy these days, I cannot predict what will happen to the pro-life cause during the Trump presidency. But I do have several suggestions for the new administration and the pro-life movement.
One is that our new president, who is close to his own children, should keep children always in the center of the abortion debate. The president’s youngest child, Barron, is only 10 years old. Mr. Trump also has eight grandchildren: Theodore, Chloe, Joseph, Spencer, Tristan, Arabella, Donald, and Kai. Their ages, at this writing, range from about nine months to nine years.
Most Americans do love children. That love should lead to protecting their own children and to helping other people’s children when they are in danger. The more defenseless children are—because they are handicapped, for example, or abused by a family member—the more they need our help. Unborn children are the most defenseless of all children, since they cannot even cry out for rescue. Others can help them by defending their right to life and by giving encouragement and practical help to their parents.
The president should stress the many programs, both governmental and private, that help children and their parents. This should include emphasis on national networks of help centers for pregnant women, such as Birthright, Care Net, 1st Way, and Heartbeat International. There is also the Nurturing Network, which focuses on helping pregnant college students and working women. Feminists for Life and Students for Life also do a great deal of work to assist pregnant and parenting college students. Presidential meetings with leaders of these groups could be extremely helpful. They would give him useful information and also call media and congressional attention to the availability of special help around the country.
Heartbeat International, the largest group of pregnancy aid centers, already sponsors a “Babies Go to Congress” event every year. This involves a group of mothers—accompanied by their babies or toddlers—who visit members of Congress to explain how pregnancy centers helped them. How about having a “Babies Go to the White House” event as well?
The president could also talk about men’s responsibility for their unborn children, which has needed more attention for a very long time. Most men active in pro-life affairs probably take this responsibility for granted, since they themselves have lived up to it. They overlook the fact that many men pressure—or coerce—wives or girlfriends to have abortions. Other men just walk away from their parental responsibility before a child’s birth and refuse to pay child support afterwards. We need men who will stand up, privately or publicly, and call other men to meet their responsibilities to their children. Fathers owe their children not just financial support, though that is essential, but also love, much time with them, and good example. Presidential reminders along this line could do a world of good.
We can expect a strong congressional effort this year to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood. This will be a big brawl—and an expensive one, since PP has so many friends in high and very wealthy places. But it will be well worth the effort. Pro-life groups can help by stressing the early eugenics influence on Planned Parenthood. They might also stress that PP leader Margaret Sanger, although a eugenicist, was opposed to abortion in most cases. She consciously pressed non-abortifacient birth control as an alternative to abortion. On this crucial issue, today’s Planned Parenthood has betrayed its best-known leader.
We can expect knock-down, drag-out battles over Supreme Court nominees. President Trump has promised to nominate pro-life ones. He may have chosen the first one—to fill the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death—by the time this appears in print. He may also have one or two other Supreme Court vacancies to fill later. But pro-lifers who viewed Justice Scalia as on their side should understand that he took a states’ rights position on abortion. Since there is nothing explicit in the Constitution about it, he thought the states were free to allow it or ban it. This is quite different from the position of the many pro-lifers who hold that unborn children are covered by the 14th Amendment’s provision that no state may “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Every Supreme Court justice or nominee should at least be open to hearing and considering arguments based on the 14th Amendment. They should also be open to new information on the English common law’s anti-abortion tradition discovered by an English legal scholar, Sir John Hamilton Baker. And pro-life members of the Senate Judiciary Committee should be willing to ask nominees if they are open to hearing such arguments and evidence. Those committee members, by the way, should include at least one or two women—Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and/or Sen. Debra Fischer (R-Neb.). When the Republican cast of characters is all-male—as it is at this writing—that hands a major advantage to the Democratic side, which currently has two women on the Judiciary Committee.
There will be very difficult—but winnable—political battles in the next four years. Pro-lifers in the White House and elsewhere should fight hard, but always with the idea that this year’s opponent may be next year’s convert. They should work, not for the destruction of their political enemies, but for life and the joy of life.
—Mary Meehan is a senior editor of the Human Life Review.
The word “salient” comes from the Latin saliens, “to spring forth, leap.”
Voters may have opinions on many issues, but for some voters today there is one issue that springs forth, leaps out, with such ferocity that it knocks all the other issues off the table.
For me, the salient issue is abortion. Here is why. Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, 58 million children have been killed in America’s abortion mills. And the slaughter is ongoing: Before this day is over, thousands of children will be killed in their mother’s wombs, some even up to the point of delivery. Minority communities are particularly hard hit. In New York City in 2012 there were more black babies killed by abortion (31,758) than were born there (24,758). Killing on this industrial scale, in numbers beyond the imagination of Americans at the time of Roe v. Wade, is America’s greatest moral calamity since slavery, and it must be stopped.
Given these facts and my position, for whom should I have voted last November, the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, or the Democrat, Hillary Clinton? Remember, there was no other viable choice.
Let’s start with Clinton’s party. NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue called its 2016 platform “far and away the most progressive platform on reproductive health, freedom and justice in the history of the party.” She was right: The platform called for increased funding for Planned Parenthood, for overturning the Hyde Amendment, for extending abortion overseas “as part of America’s global health programming,” and criminal prosecution of anti-abortion demonstrators for “intimidation” outside abortion facilities, including “noise disturbance.” During the convention, Hogue took the stage to tell why she aborted her own child years earlier. To cheers from the audience she said, “I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”
The party’s candidate, Hillary Clinton, had a 20-year history of supporting abortion on demand, even voting against a ban on late-term abortions when she served in the Senate. On two separate occasions she declared that an unborn child, even on its due date, had no right to live.
Last year’s Republican platform was equally far-reaching in its condemnation of abortion. Mentioning “abortion” by name 37 times, it not only reiterated the party’s longstanding support for a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution, but encouraged states to defund Planned Parenthood and supported state and federal laws prohibiting partial-birth abortion. Responding to undercover videos released in 2015 showing abortionists discussing the sale of fetal body parts, it called for new laws prohibiting such traffic.
The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, generally supported these Republican positions. Though he once called himself pro-choice, he claimed that his views had “evolved,” and during the debates he sharply challenged Clinton’s endorsement of late-term abortions. “Now,” Trump said, “you can say that’s OK and Hillary can say that’s OK. But it’s not OK with me.” During the election season Trump submitted a list of judges he would support for the Supreme Court who hold “originalist” judicial philosophies that would point toward limiting the scope of Roe v. Wade or even reversing it.
Going into the voting booth, a voter might hold positions on a number of issues besides abortion, but if abortion is his or her salient issue, the issue that springs forth from all the others, then it cannot be weighed equally with any of the others. In such a situation, if Candidate A holds a better position than candidate B on, say, the environment, or tariffs, or welfare, but supports “abortion rights,” which candidate B opposes, I don’t see how it is morally or even logically possible to cast a vote that will help Candidate A win the election.
Unless I have misinterpreted his remarks in the Washington Post last October and his more recent post-election comments in Crux, it appears that Charles Camosy, Associate Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University, has a different view. Camosy thinks that the choice of Trump over Clinton in the election “was an absolutely terrible election for the pro-life movement.”
Camosy is the author of Beyond the Abortion Wars (2015), a sober, well-developed treatment of the abortion issue that seeks common ground between people of good will on both sides. Camosy is firmly pro-life, but he believes that a significant segment of people who call themselves “pro-choice” would support far more restrictions on abortion than those allowed in Roe v. Wade over four decades ago. Taking account of the Supreme Court’s more recent holdings in abortion cases, he outlines his own “Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act,” which he thinks might pass judicial muster today. I don’t accept some of the loopholes he would put into his model law, but his book opens the way to a temperate public debate on abortion instead of red-faced hollering.
That’s why I was taken aback by his reaction to Donald Trump. He launches a fusillade of insults at Trump—“misogynist, racist, narcissist,” “sexual predator”—that remind me more of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” than the kind of calm reasoning I encountered in his excellent book. Much of the criticism in his two articles seems scattershot; consider these shots:
* “[Trump] will say almost anything to the religious right in order to procure their votes.” Welcome to America. This is what American politicians do. Hillary Clinton would say anything about Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List to procure their votes; I would never begrudge it to her.
* “He claims to be a Christian, but insists that he has no need to ask God for forgiveness.” I don’t know what Trump has said on that score, and I’m not going down that rabbit-hole. Since the time of Franklin and Jefferson American politicians have held a variety of heterodox Christian views, so I’ll go with Article VI of the Constitution: “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office.”
* “He claims he will put pro-life justices on the Supreme Court, but after his supposed pro-life conversion he suggested that his pro-choice sister would make a great Supreme Court justice.” This is a charge first made by Texas Senator Ted Cruz in one of the primary debates, and Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning rating agency, rated it “mostly false” on its Truth-O-Meter. While Trump did say his sister would make a “phenomenal” Supreme Court justice, he quickly added that he wouldn’t appoint her. Instead, he submitted the list of “originalist” judges I referred to above, judges who would probably not subscribe to the reasoning behind Roe v. Wade.
* “He never even brings up the issue unless someone presses him on it.” Well, probably true. But then no major candidate is anxious to bring up abortion in a national debate. The abortion controversy is so emotionally charged that no matter what you say you’ll probably lose half your audience. But Trump broached the topic boldly enough when he accused Clinton of supporting an abortion procedure that would “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month on the final day,” prompting Clinton’s accusation of “scare rhetoric.”
Camosy does advance one meaty argument, which goes like this: The pro-life movement has made considerable progress in recent years and the driving forces behind this have come from the ranks of millennials, women, and people of color. But “Trump’s positions on issues like immigration, criminal justice reform, health care and climate change are completely alienating to huge majorities in these demographics.” We are left to conclude that the young women and racial minorities now spearheading the pro-life movement will grow discouraged and drop out (or perhaps even go over to the other side).
The fallacy of this argument is its assumption that people march lockstep forever in fixed demographic categories. But think about that. Think about a young woman thoroughly committed to the pro-life cause who decides to vote for Trump based on the GOP’s national platform and Trump’s verbal support of life; then she hears that ten years ago Trump made some lewd remarks about women into a hot mic, for which he now apologizes. Is she likely to change her vote to Clinton? More to the point, is she now going to drop out of the pro-life movement? It does not seem likely to me, any more than it seems that, say, a black man who opposes abortion is going to change his views after finding out that Trump is skeptical about “climate change.” Blacks, Latinos, women, millennials, have all kinds of beliefs, some “left” and some “right.” Demography is not destiny: We have blacks demanding the charter schools that are opposed by Democrat-leaning teachers unions, Latinos who may be put off by Trump but want our borders protected, and young feminists who join the annual March for Life. They are not going to abandon their deepest commitments because Trump told dirty stories ten years ago.
I hold no brief for Trump’s personal quirks. But I pulled the lever for him because he ran on a pro-life party platform and promised the kind of Supreme Court justices who may vote the way I want them to vote. If these promises are broken I will be done with Donald Trump, but at least he promised. Hillary promised the opposite, and I know she meant it. If she had been elected it would have set back the pro-life cause for generations.
—George McKenna is professor emeritus of political science at the City College of New York.
As the pro-life movement picks up the pieces after the long contentious election cycle of 2016, uniting as a voice for the preborn—and for all those hurt by abortion—is essential to attaining our shared goal of making abortion unthinkable. If pro-lifers refuse to join together to push for laws that would make abortion illegal, for Supreme Court justices who would consider overturning Roe v. Wade, and for ending taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, not only our work but that of an earlier generation of pro-life warriors could very well have been in vain.
The lives of millions of unborn children hang in the balance these next several years. I am cautiously optimistic about what we can expect from the Trump administration and congressional leadership.
But my hope doesn’t lie in Washington: It’s out on the campuses and in the schools across our nation, where an entire generation of young people are asking themselves whether abortion should be a right, whether women need abortion to be free, and why the abortion industry has become one of the toughest lobbying forces in Washington. My hope lies in the more than 1,000 student pro-life groups that Students for Life of America serves. The passion of young pro-lifers is unrivaled in the pro-abortion movement, something even their leaders have noticed.
A Planned Parenthood vice president in Kentucky recently admitted that “The biggest challenge reproduction rights advocates face is the generational gap.” When Nancy Keenan, former president of NARAL, resigned in 2013, she said it was due in part to what she called the “intensity gap,” which she saw first-hand at the March for Life and in internal polling, where young pro-lifers said abortion was a matter of great importance in far greater numbers than did young abortion advocates.
She was right to be concerned. Polling has picked up on the undeniable trend that Millennials are more pro-life than previous generations, a change the abortion industry can’t seem to wrap its mind around. The Institute for Pro-life Advancement found that only 17 percent of millennials say abortion should be legal for any reason at any time versus 52% who say abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances.
Abortion advocates are desperate to remove the stigma surrounding abortion, trotting out celebrities like Lena Dunham, who recently said she “wishes” she had had an abortion and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, who has written about her own abortion in a national women’s magazine. They cheered when the president of a major abortion-rights group “shout[ed] her abortion” at the Democratic National Convention last summer.
They are losing and they know it. Planned Parenthood and its allies managed to survive a difficult scandal in 2015 after release of videos exposing their selling of fetal body parts, but only because they had an ally in President Obama, who vetoed a bill to strip them of taxpayer funding.
They put at least $30 million behind Hillary Clinton in 2016, hoping for an even better ally than Obama, but were soundly defeated. At the end of 2016, Planned Parenthood and several of its affiliates and business partners were recommended for criminal prosecution by committees in both the U.S. House and Senate.
Donald Trump is the only president-elect to have made specific promises to pro-lifers during a campaign. Since his election he has appointed tested pro-lifers to his Cabinet and his staff. For once, Planned Parenthood leaders will know what it’s like to have to fight for their livelihood.
Regardless of whether you voted for or against President Trump, this is our moment, this is our time to work in unison to hold politicians accountable to their pro-life promises so we can continue to expose Planned Parenthood—and the entire abortion industry—for the criminal racketeering organization it is, to strip all abortion providers of taxpayer dollars, and to show that they care nothing for women but only the bottom line.
I know many pro-lifers who are concerned that working with a Trump administration could hurt the “pro-life” brand. But the election is over. And guess what? The brand is already damaged, especially with millennials—and it was long before Donald Trump became pro-life. So forget about the brand and whether or not President Trump’s tweets actually reflect a culture of life. Quit worrying about if you are going to be lumped in as a Trump supporter. Focus on the outcomes. Imagine the lives that could be saved from abortion, the women that would be spared from the lifelong pain of that choice, and the cultural change we could make if we all work together in the next four or eight years.
—Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life of America.
“She just kept saying, ‘These babies have to go, these babies have to go, I have to go . . .’ So I ended up sleeping outside of her room at the safe house . . . just to make sure she wouldn’t harm herself.”
I hadn’t spoken to my friend Claire* in nearly fifteen years. Unbeknownst to me, she had started working at a women’s shelter in a different state during that time. Claire said she was pretty familiar with most of the resources her shelter utilized—rehab centers, halfway houses, local Catholic charities, and food pantries. But the case she had received just 12 hours earlier was different. The young woman they were protecting was brought in by a state trooper, straight from the hospital to Claire’s shelter, and then immediately on to a safe house.
For the last three years, the young woman had been kept prisoner in her home by an abusive partner. She had been savagely beaten and while Claire first noticed her two black eyes, she soon learned there were also two babies in her womb. She was 11 weeks pregnant with twins and completely hopeless.
Claire knew she needed to find resources and she needed to find them fast.
If you asked my friend, I’m sure she would tell you she’s pro-choice, but even she realized that in such a fragile state, this woman should not be making decisions as permanent as abortion. She tried looking online for resources, but was afraid she might accidentally wind up taking her to a clinic where that option would be pushed on the girl. That’s when she reached out to me.
Although we hadn’t spoken in years, because Claire and I are connected through Facebook she knew I was working on an app that offers life-affirming health-care alternatives and resources to women. As a feminist and uninsured woman myself, I’d grown so tired of hearing politicians talk about “defunding Planned Parenthood” without offering any comparable abortion-free alternatives in its place.
And while the app doesn’t exist yet, we have compiled many of the resources we’ll be using. The Vitae Foundation generously shared their database of over 3,500 pregnancy centers with us, and within five minutes, I was able to find two different pregnancy centers and a maternity home near Claire’s shelter.
As the day went on with no word about the young woman, I refused to get my hopes up. This situation was certainly dire and she had so many reasons to be abortion-minded.
Then I got a call from Claire. She was in tears.
She told me how despondent the young woman had felt only a day earlier, and how all of that had changed now. One of the groups I told her about had driven four hours to come and spend the afternoon with the young woman. After their visit, Claire said the girl’s entire demeanor had changed. Where there was hopelessness just the night before as she considered ending her life and the lives of her children, there was now hope that this might be their new beginning.
The group offered the young woman a place to come and stay for as long as she needed. Claire said she immediately took them up on their offer. She told me how they had brought a beautiful car to pick her up, stocked with fruits and vegetables, cookies and milk for the ride back in case she chose to go. The woman told Claire she hadn’t had fresh milk in three years. On the seat there was a robe and slippers, as well as a gift card to Walmart, where they said they would stop off and get her a new wardrobe. Claire could not believe the generosity and love that this group was showing the young woman. And even harder to believe was how happy this girl now was.
By this point my eyes were filled with tears, too. I think far too often, we as pro-lifers can feel so defeated. If we don’t have the resources to personally take a woman into our home or start our own pregnancy center, we feel like we aren’t really making a difference. However, the resources are already there. They exist and yet so many people simply don’t know how to find them. Sometimes all we have to do is make those connections and lives will be saved and transformed.
This is what “Pro-life in the Time of Trump” looks like to me. It looks a lot like pro-life in the time of Obama, and Bush, and Clinton. The pro-life movement is pro-woman and pro-child no matter whom we have as Commander-in-Chief. The very word—movement—implies action. We must constantly be moving towards those in need and loving them through our actions, not merely our beliefs or votes.
The only thing I can see changing under this new administration is the number of women we will have the opportunity to serve. If Planned Parenthood is defunded, then the pro-life movement will have a radical opportunity to step up and love those in our community even more. Women do not choose abortion based on who is in the Oval Office. They choose abortion based on fear and panic because of lack of resources and support. When it comes to offering that, we the people have much more power than the President of the United States.
*For the safety and security of the woman in this story, names have been changed.
—Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa is founder and president of New Wave Feminists.
Only eight years ago (it seems much longer), a pro-life president occupied the White House. In fact, counting from 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office, 20 of those 36 years have seen Republican presidents. We know that many things in the pro-life/pro-family world have changed for the worse in the past eight years, including Obamacare’s funding of abortion and abortifacients; the small but determined advance of pro-euthanasia legislation in the states; adoption of same sex marriage as a human rights cause; the redefining of freedom of religion as freedom of worship, and the exporting of all of the above abroad through foreign policy, foreign aid, and UN initiatives.
However, taking the long view of legalized abortion in America (which unfortunately gets longer each year—we have just hit the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade after all), what can we concretely expect in the next quadrennium? Of course, people point first to the Supreme Court, which awaits a ninth member and may see further turnover before the next administration. At this point, whoever assumes Justice Scalia’s robes is highly likely to be friendlier to pro-life and pro-family causes than whoever would have assumed them under a Clinton presidency. So that would perhaps prevent further—or at least less drastic—deterioration on the constitutional front, but would be unlikely to usher in a boldly pro-life Court that takes on—dare we even say it?—the congealed stare decisis status of Roe v. Wade.
The thing is, it is much harder to stuff genies back into bottles than to loose them. More than even an earth-shaking election cycle appears to be needed. It is heartening to see the inching increase in those identifying as pro-life in polls, and note sentiment for greater restriction of abortion. It is inspiring to witness the massive yearly participation in the March for Life, and to find significant handfuls of politicians not only identifying as pro-life but dedicating themselves year in and year out, whether in Congress or in statehouses, to chipping away at the mammoth-sized abortion-on-demand right introduced in 1973.
On the other hand, if we consider the numbers of abortions in the U.S. since 1973, a couple of things give rise to doubting the magnitude of the difference an administration can and will make on the life issues. For instance, the best estimates seem to show there are still just over a million abortions a year in the U.S. That’s a significant decrease from the high-water mark of 1.6 million in the 1990s. In addition, the CDC’s 2012 figures showed a 4.2 percent drop, and abortion rates also have been declining.
Although that’s good news, we could greedily wish it were even better. But the decline from the 1990s high and the drop in 2012 and after occurred during both Republican and Democratic administrations and with varyingly red and blue Congresses and statehouses. Consider, for example, that abortion numbers were still rising through the administration of Ronald Reagan, who movingly, convincingly, and repeatedly defended the right to life and supported the congressional efforts of pro-life Republicans like Henry Hyde to restrict abortion; the numbers only topped off midway through the tepidly pro-life George H.W. Bush’s presidency, and then began and continued falling through Bill Clinton’s.
I throw out this handful of statistics to remind readers—particularly those who are younger and perhaps more inclined to think changing the world is synonymous with changing who works in which office—that things are more complicated than they appear. Actions in the political sphere can cause great harm, but often it is harder to cause good. And the good that occurs often is a result of—a manifestation of—the growth of good in the private sphere.
Apart from true activists who naturally form a small minority, I see a somewhat disturbing number of people, particularly young people, who are sincerely pro-life in the sense of never considering abortion for themselves and even being willing to attempt to persuade close friends that it is wrong, but reluctant to impose that view (such as by making it illegal) on others. For instance, a number of “pro-life” young people voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries and wished they could have voted for him in November.
My sense (which may be overly pessimistic) is that the kind of “that’s not me, but do what will make you happy” philosophy that moved a hefty majority of young people into solidarity with same-sex marriage operates somewhat analogously on the topic of abortion. It’s not quite the same, because it’s easier to see the harm caused by a laissez-faire approach to abortion: People—little people, but people nonetheless—die. However, the by now widespread avoidance and even distrust of absolutes makes it much harder to move people to universalize moral behavior. I think a number of them want to get there, see the need to somehow get there on certain issues, but haven’t, so to speak, been brought up to do so. And, since the onset of the battle with terrorist Islam, absolutes have been tarred with a very scary brush.
Bottom line: What will happen in the next four years? Whether and to what extent President Trump feels moved to push pro-life initiatives is not now clear to me. However, undoing the Roe v. Wade mindset and practices and assumptions and belief system is not the same as the also-difficult undoing of the Supreme Court decision itself. When abortion was last illegal in all 50 states, the mass marketing of the contraceptive pill was barely a decade old. Rates of illegitimacy and cohabitation were still quite low by today’s standards, marriage rates were still quite high—in short, it was a different world. What a third-millennium United States without abortion would look like, how far it would have to change to “tolerate” illegalizing abortion, how much of this change would have to occur before the undoing of Roe v. Wade and how much after, are unknowns waiting—and waiting, and waiting—to be tested.
Dramatic and even cataclysmic changes in society have occurred before now more rapidly than anyone could have imagined. Consider the rise of Nazism in Hitler’s Germany or the fall of Soviet Communism. Consider the Great Awakening religious revivals in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. Consider the Sixties.
Until something similar surprises us, there is much to be done, and much of that—most of that—outside the sphere of politics, even in an era when the political sphere seems almost to have swallowed up the private. If that sphere could be pushed back, its dimensions shrunken in size, already that would be a mighty gain. But something positive would then need to occupy the abandoned space. That is up to us—as individuals, as members of organic groups, as neighbors, families, congregations, schools—and it is also ultimately beyond us. Let’s see what we and God can do in the era that now opens before us.
—Ellen Wilson Fielding is a senior editor of the Human Life Review.
From the earliest days of the national abortion debate, defenders of legal protections for the unborn have been politically and intellectually diverse. They have been people like the atheist writer Nat Hentoff; the mass abortionist-Catholic convert Bernard Nathanson, M.D.; the shock TV host Sean Morton Downey, Jr; the brilliant Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon; the eminent lawyer Victor Rosenblum; the street-wise activist Joe Scheidler; the JFK-appointed Justice Byron “Whizzer” White; the indomitable Nellie Gray; the late Justice Antonin Scalia; the eloquent pacifist Julie Loesch; and the “peace through strength” Ronald Reagan. We would do well to remember a simple fact like this at a time when some are calling on the pro-life movement to refuse to work with our new president.
I understand the wariness. I had the privilege to work in the Reagan White House for eight years. President Reagan’s image has acquired an ever-brighter patina with the passage of time, and justly so. He was then and remains for many now the model of presidential bearing. He took strong positions, stated them plainly, but eschewed the making of enemies and scapegoats. His nemeses became his admirers over time. And his policies renewed a nation that, by the admission of his immediate predecessor, had sunk into a deep malaise. Jimmy Carter donned a cardigan in a chilly capital; Reagan rolled up his shirtsleeves and worked in the sunshine of American possibility.
As good as the Reagan years were on many fronts, and we have no lesser witness for this than Judge Bill Clark, Reagan left office ruing the lack of progress he had hoped to make protecting the right to life. Worse, and no doubt to his later chagrin, he left office with a Supreme Court where two of his own appointees, Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, would play key roles in extending the “abortion right” into a new century. The election of President George H.W. Bush brought further disappointment. On the day the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, a ruling that upheld a pro-life Missouri statute and offered hope for an ultimate reversal of Roe v. Wade, Bush, in the midst of a round of golf, dismissed reporters’ questions about the decision with a flip, “Can’t a fella play a little golf?”
To many it was little surprise in 1992 that the seemingly uninterested Bush suffered defeat by the Clinton machine. Democrats proceeded to win three of the next five Presidential elections, and they made one thing perfectly clear: They are far better at delivering on their radically pro-choice agenda than Republicans are at fulfilling their pro-life promises. The history of the Supreme Court proves the point: Every Democratic selection for the Court has followed Roe to (and beyond) the letter; the Republican choices have been evenly split or are still “to-be-determined.” The ultimate result has been that the liberal ratchet on abortion (and much else) has been applied, well, liberally, and the conservative ratchet has done little more than keep the lock point exactly where the liberals set it.
The coming years may bring more of the same, or so it may be safest to assume before the fight enters its next phase. But this much should be clear. Election Day 2016 offered a choice between two candidates who, in different ways, divided the nation and stoked bitterness. Neither offered an example of enduring character. Both were capable of causing the pro-life movement grave harm.
But the truth is that only one of them plainly intended to inflict that harm. Mrs. Clinton, poised to claim some sort of balance had she tacked even modestly conservative on the life issues, only deepened her dedication to denying any rights to children until the day of their birth. Only she and her party proclaimed they would force Americans to be complicit in subsidizing and expanding abortion in the United States and, no doubt, worldwide. Only she and her party made clear that it was their aim to force Catholic hospitals to kill children in the womb, Christian churches to pay for the killing, the Little Sisters of the Poor to serve as minions of Planned Parenthood, doctors to relinquish their profession, and lawyers to be ineligible for theirs if they refused to bow to the dogmas of “choice” and gender eradication. It was an existential moment.
Some counseled that the movement should accept what I would call the oblivion option. We could select a possible martyrdom, embracing the affliction another Clinton administration would almost surely mean. But this is the thing about martyrdom. It can be accepted, but a moral Christian strives to avoid it, because, if nothing else, he wishes not to leave so grievous a sin on the immortal soul of the perpetrator.
Trump, like his 16 rivals for the Republican nomination, made commitments that no other presidential candidates had done before in writing. He would appoint “pro-life justices,” sign a bill defunding Planned Parenthood, support a national bill protecting the unborn at 20 weeks, and make the Hyde Amendment permanent. He would also dismantle the conscience-crushing Obamacare. Some say these promises are worthless with the volatile 45th president. They may be correct and by the time this article appears we are likely to know the answer on one of them—Planned Parenthood’s multi-million-dollar draw on Medicaid dollars.
In the months ahead, however, we should strive to implement these historic policies rather than relitigate 2016’s political struggle. We should acknowledge how tense this battle will be, and that—as usual over these many decades—we may tussle with our friends as much as we tangle with our foes. But we have chosen in this bitter election not to be martyrs for our faith and cause. We will instead remain alive and answerable for our actions. We are used to fighting elites in every sphere for the sake of the innocent ones we defend. That is the battle that should consume us, not the devouring of allies anywhere on the political spectrum.
—Chuck Donovan is president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.
It would be folly to presume that Donald Trump is a resolutely pro-life politician. While only Trump himself knows what is in his heart, evidence from his decades in the public eye and his recent campaign suggests that he has long been unsure about when unborn life begins and is more than likely apathetic about government’s role in protecting that life. But it would be similarly incorrect to presume that this lack of obvious pro-life commitment renders President Trump incapable of presiding over a strongly pro-life executive-branch agenda. Thus, while it is possible that President Trump will be something of a mixed bag on this issue, the pro-life movement should still hope for, and perhaps even expect, progress at the federal level.
There is ample evidence to suggest that Trump is not—or, at least, has not always been—fully committed to government protection of unborn human life. In the first primary debate, for example, Trump gave the following explanation for his so-called evolution on abortion:
What happened is friends of mine years ago were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn’t aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child. And I saw that. And I saw other instances. And I am very, very proud to say that I am pro-life.
His underlying point is correct, of course. When we “terminate” unborn human life, we destroy not a “potential human being” but what Henry Hyde used to call “a human being with potential.” At the same time, Trump’s calculus implies a utilitarianism that isn’t the point of defending the unborn. Abortion isn’t wrong only because we might lose “a total superstar”; it’s wrong because human life has intrinsic value, whether the baby becomes a “superstar” or not. But whatever the cause of Trump’s apparent change of heart, he appears ignorant of anti-abortion arguments, and that ignorance could easily limit or undermine the progress that the pro-life movement has achieved, inch by inch, across the country. This remains a serious cause for concern.
On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly praised the country’s largest abortion provider, saying that “millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood.” This, of course, is a talking point designed to minimize the moral significance of abortion and place a procedure that ends a human life on the same scale as other women’s health issues. Even more troubling, Trump cited Planned Parenthood’s own statistic that abortion makes up only three percent of its services, a statistic that has been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked as a malicious distortion of the facts. If he were knowledgeable on the subject, Trump would not blandly offer this Planned Parenthood talking point, and, furthermore, would not praise the group for supposed care that almost always takes a backseat to the more profitable “service” of abortion.
Paradoxically, Trump’s original pro-abortion stance has provided perhaps the best reason to hope for pro-life outcomes during his presidency. Trump has a non-existent public pro-life record and lacks the rhetorical passion of, say, Marco Rubio; instead, he has provided weak rationales for both his previous and current positions. Perceiving this weakness, long-time pro-life candidates such as Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul pressed Trump forcefully on this issue, and because he needed to attract socially conservative primary voters, the former businessman compensated by offering numerous, detailed promises on this issue in a way that even steadfast pro-life politicians rarely do.
However, because there is reason to believe that Trump does not fully accept or understand its premises, it is incumbent upon the pro-life movement to hold him accountable and not allow him the opportunity to backslide. In particular, those pro-life activists, politicians, and pundits who spent the general election casting Trump as a defender of unborn life have a substantial obligation in this regard. Though he has the potential to enforce a pro-life agenda, it would be foolish and wrong to label him an absolute supporter of life and leave him to his own devices. If Trump governs as a pro-life president, it may well be because the same people who pressured him to “convert,” or at least articulate pro-life positions, remind him of his words and “encourage” him to follow through on his promises.
Trump’s concrete proposals outline an expansive course for activism at the federal level of a kind that hasn’t yet been seen in the executive branch, even under pro-life presidents. Up to now, progress on this issue has come primarily from grassroots movements and Republican state legislatures, which have proactively defined and defended human life, rather than simply opposing pro-abortion policies. Perhaps Trump’s articulation of specific goals during the campaign will permeate the executive branch and, by extension, allow a Republican Congress to enact broader pro-life legislation.
In this vein, Trump’s Cabinet choices of Representative Tom Price as secretary of Health and Human Services and Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general are heartening. Both men are not only outspoken pro-life advocates but also are likely to be proactive in advancing a pro-life agenda in their respective departments. Meanwhile, long-time abortion opponent Mike Pence, as vice-presidential candidate, no doubt led the push to craft these extensive promises during the campaign, and it is conceivable that Pence will be the one to guide this agenda through the executive branch and Congress, with Trump merely holding the pen.
The pro-life movement’s success does depend in large part on the renewal of a moral culture that values human life and the family; law and policy can only do so much. But improving policy is a start, and Trump’s possible moral ambivalence toward a family-oriented culture and life issues need not derail the advancement of the movement itself in this regard. The opportunity for concrete political progress in the ongoing war to defend unborn human life—perhaps the best chance since Roe v. Wade—must surely be counted as a victory.
—Alexandra DeSanctis is the William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow in Political Journalism at National Review Institute.
Like Marjorie Dannenfelser, I did not support President-elect Donald Trump during the primaries—I still have the “Cruz for President” memorabilia and membership card I received in the mail after I made a donation to the Texas senator’s campaign. And, like her, I was disappointed when Cruz left the race because I saw him as a strong advocate for the unborn and someone people of faith could trust on religious freedom issues. But once it was clear that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee, I prepared to support him—there was no other choice.
The 2016 Democratic Party platform was a paean to the culture of death. (Even the progressive Democrats for Life denounced it.) Promising to overturn hard-won state and federal restrictions on abortion, the platform pledged to “appoint judges who will protect a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion,” and “stand up” for Planned Parenthood—despite the scandal surrounding PP’s side business in selling body parts of unborn children. The platform also promised to silence pro-life sidewalk counselors by combatting what the Democrats call “intimidation of reproductive health providers, patients and staff.” Determining what constitutes “intimidation” would be left to politically appointed prosecutors who have in the past defined it as passing out pamphlets. The platform also promised to repeal the Hyde Amendment—making all taxpayers complicit in the abortion industry; and also pledged to repeal the Helms Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortion through foreign aid to other nations. Described as the “most pro-abortion platform in history” by several media outlets, the 2016 Democratic Party platform defines abortion as a constitutional right that is “core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing.” When the death of the unborn child has become the issue that unites a political party in a common purpose, it is clear that it has truly become a party of death. For me, any candidate running on that platform had to be defeated.
I voted for Donald Trump because I believe he will do all he can to fulfill the promises of the 2016 Republican Party platform. Unlike the Democrats, the Republican platform promises to protect life. It also promises to protect religious liberty. Having worked on a Catholic campus that had to file a federal lawsuit in order to be exempted from providing insurance coverage for birth control and abortion—both morally prohibited by the Catholic Church—I understand the need for religious liberty protections. The Republican platform, and Donald Trump, promise those protections.
As the mother of a former soldier in the U.S. Army—a young soldier who served under President Obama—I am grateful that the Republican platform decries the ways in which the military has been decimated these past eight years, pointing out that our military men and women have been “shortchanged in numbers, equipment, and benefits by a Commander in Chief who treats the Armed Forces and our veterans as a necessary inconvenience.”
I am especially grateful that the Republican platform, and President-elect Donald Trump, promise to replace the “costly and complicated” system created by President Obama’s Affordable Care Act with one that provides choice and expands our freedom—and most importantly, does not force those of us who value life to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.
President-elect Donald Trump is not a perfect person. Marjorie Dannenfelser issued a statement last year in the middle of the Iowa caucuses which read: “Donald Trump Is Unacceptable,” and urged voters to “support anyone but Donald Trump”. But Dannenfelser gave all of her support to his election after he became the Republican nominee. Like me, she knew that Donald Trump was the only hope the unborn had in this presidential race.
I voted for Donald Trump because I believed him when he said he would protect life by appointing pro-life judges to the Supreme Court. I also believe that Donald Trump will not use the IRS to punish those who speak out against his policies as the Obama administration did during the lead-up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act. This is something my family knows quite a bit about, as we continue to be denied information from the IRS through the Freedom of Information Act.
I believe President-elect Donald Trump when he says he believes in American exceptionalism—and that he will uphold the Constitution as our enduring covenant. I have to believe in Donald Trump. The alternative would be simply to give up, and that is not an option. To have voted for Hillary Clinton would have been a vote for despair—for giving up on the possibility of ending the war on the unborn; giving up on the possibility of religious freedom. I am not sure President Donald Trump will “Make America Great Again,” but I voted for Donald Trump because I believed he was the only candidate who could possibly help “Make America Good Again.”
—Anne Hendershott is professor of sociology and director of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
Many years ago, interviewing for a job with a small non-profit, I realized from the questions that they were looking for a kind of messiah. They hoped to find the one person who would solve all their problems. I tried to dissuade them while trying not to sound as if I were making advance excuses in case I got the job. A less scrupulous person would have promised to make all their dreams come true.
Much of the pro-life movement has long looked eagerly for two messiahs: the fifth pro-life Supreme Court justice and the president who would appoint him (along with the fourth needed to get to the fifth). This, politically, is what we need.
For many pro-lifers, especially the political conservatives, Donald Trump is the messiah who will deliver the two justices. I’m not confident he will. He should appoint a pro-life justice to replace Scalia, because he’s not likely to disappoint a major constituency his first month in office (though he could).
But the second justice, perhaps not. Trump doesn’t evidence any real commitment to the defense of life. There’s nothing in the way he thinks, in what seem to be his assumptions and instincts, to suggest that belief in human dignity as we understand it shapes his actions. He seems to believe it (if he does at all) the way a gambler might believe a difficult mathematical explanation of playing the odds, but when he gets to the table gambles by his instincts as he did before. I expect him to forget his promises as soon as he has reason, and the reason may be as simple as giving the seat to a crony. I suspect he has promised more than the scrupulous person would promise.
Even if Trump does appoint two pro-life justices and all five justices vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court won’t be the long-dreamed-of messiah. The new majority will not find in the Constitution the unborn child’s right to live. They would probably be right, on originalist grounds.
Conscientious originalism aside, the Court does not read the Constitution very far from the social consensus. The social consensus seems to be a dislike of abortion in theory, mixed with acceptance of abortions in the early months, and especially for children conceived through rape or incest. The culture has shifted too far since 1973 for the Court to do anything genuinely radical.
Too many powers-that-be need legal abortion for the Court to make it everywhere illegal. The modern economy depends upon the ability to break bonds and upon the widespread feeling that intimate bonds are breakable. The bonds of marriage and parenthood reduce the flexibility the economy needs. There’s a reason so many large corporations give to Planned Parenthood and none gives to anyone who speaks for the right to life.
The most the Supreme Court will do is return the matter to the states, as it was before Roe v. Wade invented the right to abortion. That’s a big step and a very good thing, but still leaves the country seen as a whole on the pro-choice side of the scale.
Some states will eliminate or reduce legal abortion. Many states won’t, and some will liberalize their laws even further. Abortuaries will pop up right on the border of the states that restrict abortion and Planned Parenthood will raise money to bus women from those states to their nearest facility.
Which leaves the pro-life movement where it is now and always has been: called to work to create a culture of life in which women don’t want abortions and men will take responsibility for the children they father. This includes doing what we have been doing to support women with unplanned pregnancies, to teach, and to agitate, and doing more of it.
Commitment to life in the time of Trump requires reviving the pursuit of a culture of life. In the time of Obama, we focused on the political and on trying to keep things from getting worse. In many ways we have the same challenge, but that tells us to return to the deeper and harder work of changing America’s heart and mind.
We need to do two things to revive a culture of life. First, work to create a culture of chastity more intentionally than we have done before. I mean one where people understand sexual intimacy to be part of a permanent, committed, legally established relation (that is, marriage), not to be indulged in outside marriage. A true culture of chastity is one in which the ideal for human dignity includes the life conveyed in that stuffy Victorian word, “purity.” Purity includes, for example, the very unfashionable idea that popular movies might be near occasions of sin to be avoided. Even Christians dislike this idea. I dislike it. But abortion begins in casual, fleeting lusts, to use another stuffy Victorian word.
We can only create a culture of chastity by creating a lot more chaste people. For Catholics like me, the main way to do this will be bringing new people to the Church and strengthening the faith and practice of those already within.
This I think will prove a losing battle, not least because the powers-that-be I mentioned already make a vast amount of money from the sexual revolution, while so few people have any idea of chastity. As long as many people feel free to enjoy sex as recreation—and major businesses feel free to make money by encouraging that idea—women will get pregnant and want to end their pregnancies, and the men who impregnated them will agree, and they will form a permanent constituency for legal abortion.
The second thing is the delicate and controversial part of pro-life work in the time of Trump. We must think hard about the public policies a truly pro-life society would enact. Many pro-lifers will need to question their beliefs about the economy, public aid, and the role of government, which have been libertarian light.
It means seriously considering support for workers’ rights and greater regulation of business. It means accepting that increasing profits does not necessarily justify corporate actions and that large businesses may be the enemies of a culture of life. It also means that social conservatism should be social conservatism, and not economic conservatism, or more precisely, that the latter be subsumed in the former.
To be pro-life in the time of Trump means pushing back against Donald Trump and the damage he does: against his coarsening of public life and speech and against his support for unfettered business and the belief that the market will solve all social problems. He’s no friend of chastity or pro-life public policy—even though he’s promised to make all our dreams come true.
—David Mills, former editor of First Things, is editorial director of Ethika Politika. He thanks Mark Barrett for his insights.
The 2016 elections produced the first president to have publicly promised to nominate “pro-life judges,” continued Republican control of the U.S. Senate and House, and a Republican “trifecta” (control of Governor, House, and Senate) in 25 states. We may hope that someday both political parties will be pro-life, but in 2016 the national Democratic platform was radically pro-abortion and the national Republican platform was very pro-life—the defeat of Hillary Clinton lifted enormous threats and obstacles to building a culture of life in America. What can we reasonably expect to accomplish in the first term of the Trump-Pence Administration?
The most serious obstacle remains the Supreme Court. Right now, the prospect of overturning Roe v. Wade remains difficult—as the Texas abortion case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, signaled last June, there is a 5-3 pro-abortion majority on the Court. We expect a like-minded replacement for Justice Scalia, and we hope that a pro-abortion justice might retire in June 2017. But we can’t know for sure the future pace of change.
Another hurdle is the Senate filibuster. Will Republicans, holding only a two-seat majority, eliminate the 60-vote requirement for Supreme Court nominations? Not all Republican senators support simple majority approval for Court nominees. (Former Senator Phil Gramm opposed the change in a January 7 essay in the Wall Street Journal.)
If everything were to fall into place quickly, and Justice Scalia and a pro-abortion justice were replaced by “pro-life” justices, it’s plausible to conceive of a Roe test case arriving at the Supreme Court within four years. It would be against overwhelming odds, however, because nothing has fallen into place quickly for the cause for life since the 1973 Roe decision.
And no one should confuse the Electoral College victory in November with a cultural victory. The challenges we face are significant and will require political discernment and focused and prudent action. The counter-attack formally started on Jan. 4, when Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) declared that Senate Democrats will block Trump nominees. Every Supreme Court nomination will be a ferocious fight.
Until that Roe test case arrives, it’s useful to measure pro-life progress by looking at the six factors justices have traditionally examined in overruling a previous Court decision. Here’s a brief summary:
- Is the precedent unsettled? Roe is unsettled, as numerous political and legislative factors make clear, including November’s election of a presidential (and vice-presidential) candidate who promised to appoint “pro-life” justices and to “overturn Roe v. Wade.” (For more detail, see my article “Why Roe/Casey Is Still Unsettled” in the Summer 2014 issue of HLR);
- Was the case wrongly decided? Scholarship, and academic and judicial opinion have regularly called the foundations of Roe into question;
- Has it been unworkable? Abortion cases, including Hellerstedt, and research publications (such as AUL’s December 2016 report, Unsafe: How the Public Health Crisis in America’s Abortion Clinics Endangers Women) demonstrate that the Court’s abortion doctrine is unworkable, leaving substandard clinic conditions and practitioners in its wake;
- Have changes in fact undermined the decision? Numerous technological and social developments have changed the way the nation sees abortion;
- Have changes in law eroded it? Legal “disabilities” associated with pregnancy have been repealed, employment discrimination against pregnant women is prohibited by state and federal law, and Safe Haven laws are on the books in 50 states, all reducing the perceived need for abortion. Increased legal protection for the unborn child and limits on when the procedure can be performed further reduce the number of abortions;
- What are the reliance interests? Substandard conditions in clinics, studies on short-term risks, and a growing body of international medical data on the long-term risks indicate that abortion is bad for both mother and child, and the decreasing abortion rate points to less reliance.
The work of the pro-life movement has been guided by consideration of these factors for over four decades. We should continue to be guided by them going forward, as we seek to reduce cultural support for Roe and assure the success of a future test case. To that end, we need strategies for promoting the reasonableness of returning the abortion issue to the states. We also need a robust mother-child strategy, which stresses that abortion is bad for both of them. The “reliance interest,” which sustains Roe, should be rebutted by raising public awareness of how abortion harms women physically and psychologically. Demonstrating declining reliance on abortion is critical. The justices are likely to be less concerned about overturning precedent if the annual abortion rate is in significant decline.
Despite the best of efforts, Roe v. Wade may not be overturned by the 2020 elections. If some conditions we expect to be fulfilled by then have not been—we don’t yet have a majority of justices willing to overrule Roe, or powerful pro-abortion forces have prevented a test case from being heard by the Court—we will continue working to flesh out and publicly promote the case against abortion, so that when the test case arrives—and it will—the nation will be more favorably disposed to overruling Roe than it is today.
—Clarke D. Forsythe is Senior Counsel at Americans United for Life. His latest book is Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade (Encounter Books, 2013).
Before the election a relative emailed me some anti-Trump pieces she’d found online. Because I am a Christian she thought I might be considering supporting him. I told her I was voting for the American Solidarity Party candidate. I also told her the Christians I knew who were voting for Trump—and there were many—were not doing so out of ignorance. More information about his absurdity, his viciousness, his danger, would not sway them. They were supporting Trump for the same reason Evangelicals and traditional Catholics could be counted on to support virtually any Republican candidate: He seemed slightly less guaranteed to appoint pro-choice judges than Hillary Clinton.
For many of them, it was a ruthless, almost anti-political act. Going beyond “holding one’s nose,” it approached being a conscientious existential crime, which they committed not as part of a polity but simply because they could not do otherwise. “Mark the ballot next to the guy with the R by his name or the baby gets it,” is what the Republican Party had been instructing Christians for the past forty-odd years. “This is the end-game,” I told my relative, “this is completely cynical on the GOP’s part and I think it’s close to being over for them.”
That was then. Russell Moore was the courageous leader of the future Christian America, having refused to bend the knee to Baal. Hillary was going to win, but Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” book was coming out soon, so her win would be, in its own wretched way, all right. We were prepared. We would retreat, bravely, into our exile. We would establish more crisis pregnancy centers, while being convinced they would soon be illegal. We would continue to speak truth to power.
Things were simple then, in those golden days before the election.
Then Trump won. And things are no longer simple.
There’s a case to be made that the natural home of the pro-life movement is on the Left. With its traditional concern for the powerless, for the oppressed and exploited, why won’t the Left embrace its best instincts and protect the most vulnerable class of human beings? Why, regarding the unborn, do leftists today sound like classical liberals committed to an atomized view of society where “self-ownership” is the highest good? Why do women talk about “my right to do what I want with my body” in a way that sounds so very much like libertarians talking about “my right to do what I want with my land, with my property?”
Even more than with arguments about, say, the effects on others of someone’s decision to dump toxic chemicals into a river that runs through his land, it is utterly clear in the case of abortion that one person’s autonomous decision concerning “my own body” has the effect of, well, killing someone else. Moreover, if one must read things through a Marxist lens, why in the case of abortion are women, rather than babies, assigned the position of the oppressed class?
These arguments were obvious to us. And it seemed, almost, that we were making inroads in persuasion before the election.
No more. Now, we have legal breathing space which we wouldn’t have if Hillary had been elected. There is a possibility the Supreme Court will do what we consider to be good things. But the closer this gets to reality, the more we must attend to the real fears of those whom we may have been on the verge of persuading before Trump’s victory. Because while we have legal breathing space, our cultural breathing space has nearly evaporated.
Let’s look at where we are. The pro-life cause is now firmly linked to a man most on the Left believe to be a fascist. It’s grotesque: Trump himself has no interest in the pro-life cause; his entire lifestyle is premised on a libertine culture that requires abortion in order to function. In Trump’s mind, endeavors ranging from the sexual to the political are filtered through the category of “running a business.” It’s easy to see this with politics: He doesn’t appear to perceive any real difference between running Trump, Inc.—making maximum use of available laws to generate as much profit as possible—and running the national economy.
Sex also is a matter of the marketplace for Trump: In 2013, for example, the struggling Trump Taj Mahal became the first Atlantic City casino to boast an in-house strip club. As Hannah Anderson puts it in a recent piece in Mere Orthodoxy, “Not only does Trump . . . feel a sense of ownership over women’s bodies; he actually owns certain women’s bodies.” Anderson describes this as “patriarchy.” But that’s not it—“oligarchy” is a better word for it. Trump, through his business ventures, is an operative of the sexual consumer culture, the continued profitability of which depends on legal abortion. It is the pro-life movement’s uncompromising stance that has forced him to adopt a position so uncongenial to his own financial interests.
Making maximum use of available laws seems also to be the way Trump runs his personal life. As Anderson writes, he “procur[es] and divest[s] himself of spouses the same way he disentangles himself from failed business ventures. Divorce is simply another form of declaring bankruptcy: file, take your losses, and move on.”
To us it seems completely backwards that Trump—a man who bragged about using his power to sexually bully women—should be put in the position of defending the pro-life cause: Women who are victims of sexual assault and babies who are victims of medical assault are alike in that they suffer at the hands of the more powerful. It is doubly bizarre to us that a man who supports and has profited handsomely from the culture of capitalist sexual libertinism and familial disintegration would be in the position of taking action against a practice that so perfectly fits the broader cultural agenda.
But for at least some who are pro-choice, it makes complete sense that a person who would want to use women, who has shown contempt for them sexually, would also want to take away their ability to exercise autonomy in other areas. What is at the heart of forbidding abortion—the real motive, always, they believe—is the desire of men to control women. In this view, it makes perfect sense that Trump would line up with the pro-life cause.
Our job now is to show that we are not kidding about what we have said we care about. We are, I take it, involved in this movement because thousands of human people, every day, legally are being killed. It is an attack on babies, one which goes hand in hand with a denial that there is such a thing as a human person who must be respected, whose life cannot be ended by arbitrary will. It goes hand in hand too with a denial that there is any justice, any good, beyond the positive law—any other law to which the positive law must, if it is to be just, conform.
Our desire is to live in a country where the least powerful are not abused, where justice isn’t perverted to serve the cause of the powerful. We wish to be part of a society that is pro-all-of-life: that supports the vulnerable, expects the powerful to use their power wisely, and encourages the true flourishing of human individuals and families. That’s what this struggle is about.
And so, in the age of Trump, we have to be vigilant: We have to hold Trump to account—to make sure he embraces the pro-life agenda, and that he acts to secure all the other goods we would hope for from a leader. It seems likely that he will do the former. At least that he will appoint pro-life justices. It seems profoundly unlikely he will do the latter. We have to be prepared to fight against a nominally pro-life president should he make decisions that undermine human good and justice in other areas.
We must keep supporting crisis pregnancy centers—indeed, if aspects of the social safety net at the federal level are abolished, we have to make good on our vaunted communitarian commitments to rebuild an economy and culture at the local level that provides, say, inexpensive health care, support for families and for mothers who are unmarried, and for others who may not do well in whatever kind of freaky, erratic oligarchy we’re about to experience.
It’s a wild new world. Being against the kind of pro-abortion, technocratic militarist globalism-with-capitalism that Hillary represented was easy. It would be to our infinite shame if we were to find ourselves defending any actual injustice, any cruelty or imprudence that starts oozing out of Washington or Midtown or wherever the government is going to be run from.
We don’t know what’s going to happen. But this is a moment to realize that those on the Left who don’t understand what we are about are, right now, actually afraid. And we need to recognize this fear.
This is a moment for the pro-life movement to remember that it is part of a much broader pro-human, pro-justice movement, a movement to champion the moral order and beauty at the heart of the cosmos, and to see that order reflected in our laws. We must be prepared to guard the sanctity of human life in the face of technological ambition. And to fight whatever is unjust or inhumane—no matter whom we are fighting against.
—Susannah Black’s writing has appeared in First Things, Front Porch Republic, The American Conservative and elsewhere. Twitter: @suzania