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Eviscerating the GOP’s pro-life plank

The party platform follows the lead of Donald Trump and his changing views on abortion


A pro-life supporter of Donald Trump in 2020 Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes, file

Eviscerating the GOP’s pro-life plank
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Over the last week and a half, the nation has been understandably focused on a potential constitutional crisis caused by President Joe Biden’s declining mental acuity. As a result, many Americans have not noticed that there is a storm brewing within the Republican coalition over the issue of abortion. The GOP platform committee met on Monday and adopted a new draft that waters down the pro-life commitments of the party’s previous platform.

The draft has been leaked online, and the new language on abortion reads as follows: “We proudly stand for families and Life. We believe that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees that no person can be denied Life or Liberty without Due Process, and that the States are, therefore, free to pass Laws protecting those Rights. After 51 years, because of us, that power has been given to the States and to a vote of the People. We will oppose Late Term Abortion, while supporting mothers and policies that advance Prenatal Care, access to Birth Control, and IVF (fertility treatments).”

This is a major loss for the pro-life cause. Even though it mentions the 14th Amendment, the draft fails to apply its protections to the unborn explicitly. Instead, it relegates the matter to the states, many of which do not recognize the unborn as “persons” under the 14th Amendment.

Also, the new draft does not include clear statements of pro-life principles that were a part of GOP platforms in 2016 and 2020. In 2016, the platform affirmed “the sanctity of human life” and “that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed.” The previous platform also supported a “human life amendment to the Constitution” and explicitly affirmed federal “legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth.”

None of this appears in the new draft. It’s all gone. The new platform de-commits from any measure to protect the unborn at the federal level. Functionally, the new draft of the Republican platform is pro-abortion at the federal level.

If the Trump campaign succeeds in watering down the platform on this seminal issue, it will threaten to marginalize social conservatives within the GOP coalition. It will leave the pro-life movement with no vehicle for advancing the sanctity of human life at the federal level.

As reports of the new draft began to circulate, some social conservatives released statements putting a positive spin on the new language. Both Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition lauded the language affirming the 14th Amendment. They claimed that it leaves open the possibility of enacting protections at the national level for the unborn.

But this is surely a misinterpretation of the draft. How do we know that? The new language was crafted to reflect the views of candidate Donald Trump, who has said that he wants the matter left entirely to the states. Over the last year, Trump has been “moderating” his position on abortion. In September 2023, he excoriated Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for signing a law protecting the unborn after six weeks of gestation. Trump also indicated he would negotiate with Democrats over how many weeks of a pregnancy during which an abortion should be allowed.

In his debate with President Joe Biden, Trump said he supports the Supreme Court’s decision guaranteeing access to the abortion pill mifepristone. He also said that he is content for the states to work out their own abortion policies, even though some states have legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. Trump has adopted a pragmatic approach, saying, “You have to get elected.” Clearly, he doesn’t want his reelection campaign sandbagged with unpopular pro-life protections for the unborn.

And that is why the Trump campaign has pushed through this new platform. It is designed to reflect the candidate’s views, which are currently moving in a more pro-abortion direction that he thinks will be a political winner.

This is a watershed moment for the pro-life movement and social conservatism writ large. A new platform will have to be approved by the Republican National Convention, which meets next week in Milwaukee. If the Trump campaign succeeds in watering down the platform on this seminal issue, it will threaten to marginalize social conservatives within the GOP coalition. It will leave the pro-life movement with no vehicle for advancing the sanctity of human life at the federal level.

By and large, pro-lifers understood the deal they were making in 2016 when they turned out to vote for the Republican candidate. Even though there was skepticism about Trump’s personal views on abortion, he promised pro-lifers that he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Pro-life voters took the deal.

But now it looks as if Trump is altering the deal for his possible second term—a deal that has eviscerated the pro-life plank of the Republican Party platform. The pro-life movement faces a new moment of challenge, and we are about to discover who is really standing with us.


Denny Burk

Denny serves as a professor of Biblical studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. He also serves as one of the teaching pastors at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. He is the author of numerous books, including What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway, 2013), Transforming Homosexuality (P&R, 2015), and a commentary on the pastoral epistles for the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway, 2017).

@DennyBurk


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