Can we state the obvious? Donald Trump isnt your typical Republican president. He breaks the mold in so many ways and is seemingly so unpredictable that the GOP establishment has been reluctant to embrace him. But as president, Trump has been quick to embrace one particular aspect of Republican orthodoxy: He has played pro-lifers for fools.
Its one of the easiest shell games in all of politics, one Republican presidents have been playing since before anyone could conceive of such a thing as a President Trump. Reagan did it. Bush Sr. did it. Bush Jr. did it too. Did anyone really, honestly, and truly think the next man up wouldnt?
Like his forebears, candidate Trump made grandiose promises to the Republican pro-life base promises he had no intention of keeping. He would appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, he said, and overturn Roe v. Wade automatically, and he would defund Planned Parenthood. Naturally, pro-lifers ate it up.
But, really, who could trust him? Only those who wished to be fooled. This is the man, after all, who declared he would build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it! Mark my words, he said, echoing Bush Sr.s classic line, Read my lips. After the election, Trump walked back his proposed 20 percent tariff on Mexican imports that would fund the wall. He suggested later that Mexico might pay for it indirectly through NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Nota bene: Trump has also said hes been opposed to NAFTA for a long time, even threatening to terminate the trade deal between Mexico, Canada, and the U.S.
This is the man who said he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate crooked Hillary. Post-election, he said of the Clintons, I dont want to hurt them. Theyre good people.
This is the man who promised to vigorously defend Article XII of the U.S. Constitution. News flash: There is no such thing!
Trump, trustworthy? Not so much.
Most importantly, throughout his decades-long stint in the public eye, Trump has been a consistent abortion supporter. Consider the evidence.
In April 1989 Trump co-sponsored a dinner at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan (which he owned at the time) honoring Robin Chandler Duke, a former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America (which was then known as the National Abortion Rights Action League). As reported in the Washington Post (Apr. 3, 2016), Trump ended up not attending the event, backing out after his family was allegedly threatened by pro-life activists.
A decade later, in an October 1999 interview with Tim Russert, Trump declared himself to be very pro-choice. He also claimed in the same interview to be strongly for choice and pro-choice in every respect. In case he wasnt clear enough, he added, I just believe in choice. To top it off, when Russert asked, Would a President Trump ban partial-birth abortion? Trump answered, No.
Yet somewhere during the following decade, as the notion of actually running for office became more than mere talk, Trump had something of a change of heart. Hey, if Crooked Hillary can do it, then why not The Donald? Yes, like his Democratic opponent regarding the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Trump was for abortion before he was against it flip-flopping when it became politically expedient.
Trumps first documented pro-life declaration came in a 2011 speech, when he said, I am pro-life [and] against gun control. He announced his course correction before the Conservative Political Action Conference. Can we say it? Consistency has never been Trumps calling card. Like Reagan before him, hes a show-biz personality who knows how to work whichever crowd hes in front of. (Whether you can be pro-life and for the proliferation of guns is another question entirely.)
A few years later, shortly after Trump announced his intention to run for the Republican nomination, Jake Tapper of CNN pressed him on his social agenda (June 28, 2015). Trump got a little tripped up. Heres the transcript:
Tapper: Let me ask you about a few social issues because they havent been issues you have been talking about for several years. I know youre opposed to abortion.Cmon, thats a pretty important distinction! And a pretty simple one. Trump is, of course, a political neophyte, and some might therefore be inclined to cut him some slack. But he is also someone who is not unaccustomed to the spotlight or to being interviewed. Either he forgot his talking points or his pro-life conversion was only skin deep. Thats a verbal slip nobody associated with the American Life League, the Pro-Life Action League, or the Human Life Foundation or anybody with any real pro-life bona fides would ever make. They speak from the heart. But Trump? Hes more of a moment-to-moment guy, as the country has come to learn.
Trump: Right. Im pro-choice.
Tapper: Youre pro-choice or pro-life?
Trump: Im pro-life. Im sorry.
One moment Trump was saying that women who procure abortions should be subject to some form of punishment. In a later moment he clarified, saying not the women who procure abortions but the doctors who provide them should be punished. Another moment saw him saying he doesnt disagree with the proposition that abortion is murder. And in yet another moment he claimed that like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions. Who knows what Trump really believes regarding abortion? Trump himself probably doesnt know.
And yet here pro-lifers were the morning of November 9, 2016, giddy over the possibility that newly elected Republican President Donald J. Trump would put his megamoney where his megamouth is. Maybe he wouldnt make abortion punishable by law, but if nothing else he would defund Planned Parenthood, right? That, at least, seemed somewhat doable. Indeed, in the first budget proposal he sent Congress in May 2017, Trump called for the complete defunding of certain entities that provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood, denying them money from the Department of Health and Human Services through Medicaid or the Title X program. Yes! Victory!
Oops, not so fast.
Alas, Trumps heart simply wasnt in it. His level of bombast couldnt match his lack of conviction. Once he encountered pushback, he caved. The final federal budget passed in September by the Republican-controlled Congress broke one of his most unambiguous campaign promises: It does indeed fund Planned Parenthood and at the same levels and for the same purposes as during the Obama administration.
Surprise, pro-lifers, the jokes on you. Yet again.
This is not to say that, as president, Trump has done nothing to advance the pro-life cause. During the campaign, he said he would appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. By nominating Neil Gorsuch, widely regarded as a constitutional originalist, Trump said he was making good on that promise. And on the surface, it would seem that he did.
But lets dig a little deeper. Gorsuch has earned a reputation in leftist circles as an anti-abortion extremist and in the rightist realm as solidly pro-life. But is it deserved? In his ten years as an appeals court justice, Gorsuch never once ruled on an abortion case. He has no actual judicial history on which to base such a characterization and its a characterization Gorsuch himself is reticent to accept, again probably for reasons of political expediency. Do we really want or need people in positions of power who are pro-life only when its politically expedient? Weve been burned by such types presidents and justices alike many times over.
At his Senate confirmation hearing, the Democrats grilled Gorsuch over whether Trump had asked him to overturn Roe v. Wade, which Gorsuch denied had happened. They then pressed him about what he would have done had Trump asked him to do so. Gorsuch responded, I would have walked out the door. Thats not what judges do. In fact, several times during the hearing Gorsuch called Roe settled law. Moreover, in reply to a question from Dianne Feinstein about overturning Roe, Gorsuch said, Once the case is settled, that adds to the determinacy of the law. What was once a hotly contested issue is no longer a hotly contested issue. We move forward. In other words, legalized abortion is the status quo. We accept it and move on. Theres nothing to see here, no debate to be had.
And this is our hoped-for pro-life Supreme Court justice? This is the man who is supposed to cast the deciding vote and turn the tide of history?
Heck, Gorsuch cant even get his religion right. He was raised a Catholic and attended a Jesuit prep school. Yet prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court, he had been attending St. Johns Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado a congregation with a reputation for being politically liberal. Its campus features a labyrinth and solar panels, the latter of which, it boasts at its website, reduce our carbon footprint and help save the planet! Its rector, the Rev. Susan Springer, attended the Womens March in Denver and offers blessings of same-sex couples. Associate rector Rev. Ted Howard added his name to a public letter slamming the criticism and disrespectful rhetoric directed at Islam following the December 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack an attack in which a Muslim man and his Muslim wife shot up a Christmas party at which the mans co-workers were celebrating the great Christian feast. To top it off, the Episcopal Church at large has officially expressed its unequivocal opposition to any law that would abridge or deny the right of women to procure abortions.
Granted, the Senate confirmation process is often an exercise in obfuscation the judicial nominee often plays it down the middle, uttering nary a controversial word, hoping to come out with the best chance of getting named to the post. And just because Gorsuch worships at such a goofy place doesnt mean he holds every politically correct position it puts forth. But none of this inspires confidence that hell do anything about the greatest massacre of innocents since biblical days. We simply dont know what to expect from our newest Supreme Court Justice nobody does.
But if history is any indication, the answer is not much. Of the past 14 Supreme Court Justices who have been appointed by Republican presidents, only three (Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas) could be called reliable pro-life voters. John Roberts is a likely pro-life voter, making four. If this were baseball, that would be a decent batting average. But were talking about babies lives.
And lets not forget that Roe itself was decided by a court dominated by Republican-appointed justices. Of the seven justices who voted to legalize abortion nationwide in 1973, five were appointed by Republicans. Of the two who dissented, only one was appointed by a Republican. So we have Republican presidents and their appointees to thank for giving us Roe in the first place.
Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) was another golden opportunity wasted. It was the first time since 1973 that the court had a clear majority of justices who had written an opinion challenging Roe or who had been appointed by a Republican president who had verbally expressed his commitment to reversing it. Yet in the 5-4 decision, all five votes to uphold Roe were cast by Republican appointees.
As weve written here in the past, we believe that Republicans will never outlaw abortion or ensure that Roe v. Wade is reversed (Would Protecting the Lives of the Unborn Be Tyranny? New Oxford Note, Jan. 2005). Wed love to be proved wrong about this, but history has shown us to be right time and again. (Thats nothing to brag about; we lament it.) The simple, sad fact is that Trump is the sixth Republican president since abortion was legalized nationwide, compared to three Democrats, yet were no closer to overturning Roe v. Wade or outlawing abortion than we were in 1973, no closer than wed be if wed had six Democratic presidents and three Republicans in that time span. In fact, if we are to believe Neil Gorsuch, the latest Republican Supreme Court appointee, Roe is settled law and no longer something that needs even to be debated.
Its become trendy among pro-lifers to label the Democratic Party the Party of Death. But that doesnt make the Republican Party the Party of Life far from it. At this moment, there is no viable major American political party worthy of that mantle. We pro-lifers need to stop pretending there is.
DOSSIER: Pro-Life Issues & Culture of Death