Is Donald Trump retreating on abortion? | WORLD
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Is Donald Trump retreating on abortion?

The former president’s very troubling new position

Former President Donald Trump prepares to speak at a Concerned Women for America Summit in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15. Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik

Is Donald Trump retreating on abortion?
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Was Donald Trump ever pro-life? Admittedly, the history is complicated, but the record reveals a man whose pro-life views have been at best muddled and at worst politically calculated. It’s ironic to say this about the man responsible for the end of Roe. Nevertheless, pro-lifers need to come to terms with reality for the sake of advancing the pro-life cause.

When candidate Trump ran for the presidency in 2016, many pro-lifers were understandably skeptical of his bona fides as a champion for the cause. There were a number of reasons for this. 

First, Trump’s conversion to the pro-life view seemed to be grounded in political expediency. In 1999. Trump told Tim Russert on Meet the Press that he was “very pro-choice.” Moreover, Trump claimed in a GOP debate that Planned Parenthood does "wonderful things" for women's health. This is not the way a convictional pro-lifer talks about Planned Parenthood. It seemed to many that his conversion to the pro-life view may have been more about politics than about conviction.

Second, in 2015 after his supposed conversion to the pro-life view, he said that his sister—a judge who had written an opinion in favor of partial-birth abortion—would make a fine Supreme Court justice. That seemed like an obvious tell. Overwhelming majorities of Americans on all sides of the political spectrum opposed partial-birth abortion. Trump’s sister had defended that procedure, and still Trump said she would be a great Supreme Court justice.

Third, also after his alleged conversion to the pro-life view, he spoke in ways that betrayed his ignorance of the pro-life stance. Indeed, in one interview during his 2016 bid for the presidency, candidate Trump said that he supported the so-called “health” exception. He seemed completely unaware that Doe v. Bolton’s definition of the “health” exception is what gave us abortion on demand in the United States. And he said this while running for the GOP nomination for president.

For these reasons and more, many pro-lifers were skeptical of his ability to be the standard-bearer for the pro-life cause. This skepticism among pro-lifers was so real that Trump took the unprecedented step of releasing a list of judges from which he would make appointments, if he became president. While many pro-lifers were still unpersuaded by this, others decided to take the deal. But at that point, there was still no reason to believe that he had actual convictions about the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death.

For all the good Trump may have done to bring Roe to an end, he appears to be undermining the good work of pro-lifers now.

To the surprise of many (including me), President Trump held up his end of the bargain and then some. He became the first sitting president to attend the March for Life. In his 2019 State of the Union Address, he exhorted the nation, “Let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: All children—born and unborn—are made in the holy image of God.” Most stunning of all, President Trump actually came through on his Supreme Court promise by appointing Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett.

In the case of Kavanaugh especially, President Trump stood beside his nominee through a withering political onslaught. Almost any other GOP president would have cut his losses and let Kavanaugh go. But Trump didn’t do that. As a result, a pro-life majority emerged on the high court, which led to the Dobbs decision overturning Roe. It’s probably not overstating things to say that Trump’s appointments and the Dobbs decision have proven him to be the most consequential pro-life president in the history of the United States.

But that was then, and this is now. Roe is gone. Abortion policy has now gone back to the states. Blue states are passing laws to extend the regime of abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy. Red states are passing abortion restrictions. All the states in between are making their own negotiations about what kinds of restrictions are appropriate. Should there be restrictions through all stages of pregnancy or only after six weeks? Fifteen weeks? Later? That is the nature of the debate playing out state-by-state. But both sides are also bracing for a fight over federal legislation.

Where is Trump in all of this? Over the weekend, in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Trump began slouching back toward his old pro-choice views. He excoriated Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for signing a six-week ban on abortion. He also indicated that he would negotiate with Democrats over how many weeks of a pregnancy during which abortion should allowed. He displays a crass political calculation that reveals no principled beliefs about the sanctity of human life at all stages of development.

What are pro-lifers to make of all this? The front line of the pro-life legal movement has moved to the states. A president who vocally opposes pro-life gains in those states is not helping but hurting the pro-life movement. For all the good Trump may have done to bring Roe to an end, he appears to be undermining the good work of pro-lifers now. This ought to be unacceptable for anyone who cares about passing laws to protect the sanctity of human life. Trump is not helping toward that end. Indeed, he seems to be hurting the cause.

Was Trump’s alliance with pro-lifers always transactional and never grounded in conviction? The former president appears to be backing away from any legitimate pro-life position. Pro-life voters need to come to terms with reality, and they need to do so quickly.

Denny Burk

Denny Burk 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. 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).


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