The Disarray and Hope of Our Post-Election Abortion Politics
Pro-lifers, despite being in the clear majority of the country, are now politically homeless. 73% of Americans want abortion to be broadly illegal after week twelve of gestation, but for the US Congress, a 20-week limit—a modest threshold that makes European restrictions look pro-life—seems impossible to achieve.
Senate Democrats still have the capacity to filibuster such common-sense restrictions, and given their recent commitments to wild abortion extremism, they almost certainly will. In a July opinion piece with the Los Angeles Times, I joined Kristen Day (executive director of Democrats for Life) in calling out the extremism of the Democratic platform supported by Hillary Clinton. In addition to supporting the coercion of pro-lifers to pay for the killing of the most vulnerable with their own tax dollars, the platform did the following:
- It called for repeal of all “federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion.” Support for abortion rights in this platform is deemed “unequivocal.”
- It asserted that “reproductive health” — which includes access to “safe and legal abortion” — is “core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing.”
- It removed a commitment to religious liberty in the context of abortion, which was included in the 2012 platform.
The Clinton abortion mantra of the 1990s, invoked as recently as her 2008 run for president, was “safe, legal, and rare.” But the extremism which currently rules the Democratic Party has forced Clinton to shift to what I call the “abortion is awesome” position. Think this is too extreme? What other word could be used to describe something that is “core” to the “health and wellbeing” of literally every person on the planet?
For the liberal party—though it was once thought to be reduced to a tragic, rare event—abortion is now celebrated as social good. Given (1) how deeply out of touch this position is with the views of the American people and (2) the fact that “abortion” was the most Googled political topic the day of the presidential election, there is little doubt that Clinton lost the votes of many pro-life Christians who—though having deep questions about Trump—simply could not vote for a candidate and party that celebrate the abortion of prenatal children as a social good. These children, after all, have what Pope Francis rightly described as “the face of the Lord” as the least among us.
It doesn’t follow, of course, that the horrific position of the Democrats and Clinton this election cycle means that Donald Trump is the candidate for pro-life Christians.
It turns out many people apparently were unclear on his abortion position. By late afternoon on the day of the election, the Google search “Trump on abortion” had spiked by an astonishing 4000%. They can be forgiven for being unclear given that Trump, despite supposedly having a pro-life conversion, never speaks about the topic unprompted. And when it does speak, it often isn’t clear what he is saying.
Just before the election, I wrote a piece for the Washington Post calling Trump’s views on this topic into serious question:
[T]here is little reason to believe Trump is serious about appointing judges who would overturn Roe given the chance. After all, before his well-timed conversion, Trump was “pro-choice in every respect,” including when it came to partial-birth abortion. Even during this very election cycle he claimed his abortion-rights-supporting sister would make a great Supreme Court justice. He took five different abortion positions in three days on his way to figuring out contemporary, women-centered antiabortion values. His has consistently refused to say that he wants Roe. v. Wade overturned.
This would be bad enough, but there are other reasons the pro-life movement needs to think hard about embracing Trump as its de facto leader. For many years, our critics have labeled us “pro-birth” rather than genuinely pro-life. They have attempted to marginalize us as led by old, white, privileged, misogynist men who want to use and control women’s bodies.
The movement has worked hard to demonstrate that this is a bad and perhaps willful mistake. But pro-life capitulation to Trump has undermined much of this difficult, decades-long work. Now our opponents can point to a ‘pro-life’ leader who supports torture and the intentional killing of innocents in war. A ‘pro-life’ leader who built his campaign on antipathy for the vulnerable stranger. A ‘pro-lifer’ who walks right into every stereotype of the misogynist ‘pro-life’ man, a man who spend much of his life using his power and privilege to control women’s bodies.
For many years, traditional pro-life Christians have risked idolatry in their uncritical support of the Republican Party. In addition to producing paltry results for prenatal children, this methodology has caused far too many Christians to end up looking far too much like Republicans.
But the political homelessness of the pro-life movement post-Trump actually provides an opportunity to be more authentic followers of Christ. It is now clear that, while pro-life Christians cannot abide the Democratic Party, we can now clearly see that the Republican Party, with Trump as its leader, is foreign territory as well.
Calls are growing for a new pro-life party—perhaps one that consistently lives out Christ’s skepticism of violence and sees his face in the least among us. Committed Christians have a unique opportunity to be theologically confident and comprehensive in pushing our new political realignment in a way that reflects more of the Gospel.
In the meantime, the work of faithful Christians in politics should embrace our political homelessness. Our true home is not of this world. If we find ourselves too comfortable with a secular political party, this is not only a warning that idolatry is likely a problem, it hampers our ability to work with multiple parties in pursuit of the one thing that really matters: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Charles C. Camosy is Associate Professor of Theology at Fordham University and author of Beyond the Abortion Wars: a Way Forward for a New Generation.