I have a confession to make – I wasn’t happy when I woke on November 9th to find that Donald J. Trump had won the election.
Of course, there was always a lot about him to dislike. His mind-boggling ignorance of politics and science, open xenophobia and misogyny, and distasteful sexual practices were enough to make even a dyed-in-the-wool pro-lifer like me consider, however briefly, voting for Hillary just to make sure he stayed out of the Oval Office. But even when I looked at it through a strictly pro-life lens, I couldn’t bring myself to be happy that he won. Why not? Because he is, without a doubt, the single worstspokesman the pro-life movement could possibly hope to find.
First, there is the matter of Trump’s pathological dishonesty. Of his statements measured on fact-checking site Politifact.com, 19% were rated “Mostly False,” 33%were rated “False,” and 18% “Pants on Fire.” (By comparison, as of this writing, Hillary Clinton’s respective scores were 14%, 10%, and 2%.) Trump’s collected misstatements also had the “honor” of winning Politifact’s “Lie of the Year” in 2015. Furthermore, he has a longhistory of defrauding people who have worked for him – contractors, vendors, real estate brokers, and, ironically, some of the attorneys hired to defend him against such charges. What this means to the pro-life movement is that even though Trump has promised to appoint anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court, in practice, his word means very little.
Second, and far worse, is Trump’s well-known misogyny. (A long, but by no means exhaustive list of the horrendous things he has said about women can be found here.) This is bad enough on its own, but consider this: Ever since Roe v. Wade codified the idea that abortion is a woman’s right (the rights of the unborn child be damned), the left has been all too eager to paint all pro-lifers as being misogynistic Neanderthals who can’t stand the idea of a woman making her own decisions. Pro-lifers know that nothing could be further from the truth, yet the preceding sentence describes Donald Trump to a T. As he is about to become the most powerful person in the world, he is the pro-life movement’s de facto leader, and that ought to be cause for concern to any pro-lifer who does in fact support women’s rights and just wants to move beyond that tired, inaccurate stereotype.
Finally, the sincerity of Trump’s pro-life credentials is highly questionable. The fact that he advocated for “some form of punishment” for women who obtain illegal abortions, and that he later falsely claimed that Hillary Clinton advocated for abortion in the ninth month of pregnancy, implies that he misunderstands what the vast majority of pro-lifers believe. Coupled with Trump’s previous pro-choice positions, it would seem that his current marriage to large segments of the pro-life movement is merely one of convenience – after all, he could hardly have run as a pro-choice Republican.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that Trump really does sign every pro-life bill that reaches his desk, that he really does appoint qualified pro-life justices, and that those justices do manage to overturn Roe v. Wade. The fact remains that legalized abortion is not a problem we can simply govern our way out of. Any anti-abortion legislation that Congress passes and Trump signs into law could easily be undone by the next Democratic Congress or an executive order from Trump’s successor. Any Supreme Court ruling that overturns Roe could itself be overturned by the next generation of liberal justices. Any solution implemented on purely partisan grounds is in danger of being undone as soon as power inevitably changes hands – the current Congressional effort to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act demonstrates that all too well.
If we are serious about ending abortion permanently, we need to be able to work with members of both parties to lower the demand for abortions through better social policies. We need to continue to argue for the humanity of the fetus on both scientific and legal grounds. Finally, we need to continue to dissociate ourselves from the hoary stereotypes of pro-lifers as being ill-educated, sexist, overly religious, or some combination of the three. These things would have been difficult under, say, a President McCain or a President Romney, but not impossible. But when the most visible spokesman for the anti-abortion cause is someone as dishonest and sexist as Trump is, we will need to work twice as hard to present our arguments as reasoned, rational, and morally correct. Make no mistake – Donald J. Trump will not help the pro-life movement in the long term. The only thing that can help is if we find a way to reclaim the moral high ground in the public’s eye, and that cannot happen as long as he can be said to speak for us.