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Trump and the March for Life

Will Trumpism corrupt the pro-life movement, too?
January 24, 2020
Trump and the March for Life
(Digital collage by Hannah Yoest / Photos from GettyImages)

Over the last couple of decades I’ve spent a lot of time wringing my hands about the gradual extinction of pro-life Democrats.

That’s because abortion is a hard enough issue to create consensus on to begin with. It becomes almost impossible once it transmogrifies into an entirely partisan issue.

Because partisan fights don’t get resolved. They go on for forever.

But here we are. And today Donald Trump is going to speak at the annual March for Life rally. Good for him. I guess.

Just two questions:

(1) Roughly how many people who are undecided on abortion will be convinced by Trump’s grafting himself onto the pro-life movement?

(2) Do you think that number is higher, or lower, than the number of soft abortion supporters who will harden when they see as the face of the pro-life movement not earnest high school kids or Sister Bethany Madonna or Tim Tebow or Russell Moore—but Donald Trump, the most unpopular and polarizing figure in modern American politics?

One of the ways the pro-life movement has changed people’s minds over the last 20 years is by having science on their side. Another way is that they were more than just anti-abortion.

Pro-lifers made smart, principled arguments about stem-cell research that were vindicated by the discovery of techniques that don’t involve the destruction of human embryos.

Pro-lifers led the opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

Pro-lifers are the first people to speak up for the rights of the disabled and the inherent dignity of all persons.

They spread the gospel of the seamless garment of life and that’s how they attracted new people to their cause.

The more the pro-life movement narrows its focus to nothing but abortion, the less effective it will be at changing people’s minds on abortion. And changing an administrative guideline, or an executive order achieves only temporary relief. Lasting progress comes from changing the culture.

Donald Trump is a recent convert on the cause of abortion and that’s wonderful. I trust that this conversion is utterly sincere and am grateful that God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to change his heart.

That said, Trump is one of the rare converts who came to oppose abortion without really having much truck with ideas about inherent human dignity.

I could list example after example after example, but that wouldn’t really accomplish anything. If you’re still on the Trump train at this point, you’re not getting off.

But it isn’t just Trump’s personal remarks. It’s policy. It feels like a decade ago, but do you remember how Trump’s administration was separating families caught crossing the border illegally? It was one of the most disgraceful moments in our government’s recent history.

It was so disgraceful that, after insisting for weeks that there was nothing wrong with the policy, Trump reversed it.

There’s much more. There’s the false imprisonment of Francisco Galicia. There’s the lie about the number of white Americans being murdered by blacks. There’s the Yemeni mother who was kept away from her terminally ill 2-year-old son for a year by Trump’s travel ban, only to be granted a waiver the day before he died in a California hospital.

Donald Trump may be opposed to abortion—and again, that’s great—but he clearly does not believe in any consistent life ethic. Which means that he is functionally opposed to much of the pro-life movement’s beliefs.

Should the pro-life movement be welcoming Trump at the March for Life? I don’t know. I’m not the boss of them.

But I would note that it is not uncommon for conservatives to dismiss entire causes or ideologies because of the presence of a bad actor. For instance, you may recall conservatives dismissing the Women’s March in 2017 because of the involvement of Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory.

Why would outside observers not take the same attitude about the March for Life because of Trump?

And pro-lifers have previously insisted that a president who does not align with their beliefs should not be, say, invited to speak at a Catholic university. You may recall that some pro-lifers were furious when Notre Dame invited Barack Obama as a commencement speaker because, they argued, this was a tacit endorsement of his policies.

By which reasoning, in allowing President Trump to speak at the March for Life the pro-life movement would be agreeing to own all of his policies and statements, too.

Before we close this out, do me a favor and watch this clip of President Trump speaking at a campaign rally. He asks how U.S. border guards are supposed to stop the onrushing hordes of illegal immigrants and someone in the audience yells “Shoot them!”

And the president of the United States then mugs for the crowd and jokes about how you can get away with a comment like that “only in the panhandle.”

Really, go watch it. It’s short.

Trump laughs after audience member suggests shooting migrants

Pro-lifers should not attach themselves to a man like this.

Trumpism has corrupted every ideology and institution it has come into contact with. There is no reason to think that the pro-life movement will be excepted.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.