The problem with Trump’s change of heart on abortion (COMMENTARY)

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at a campaign rally in Farmington, New Hampshire on January 25, 2016. Photo courtesy of EUTERS/Gretchen Ertl 
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-WAX-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Jan. 26, 2016.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at a campaign rally in Farmington, New Hampshire on January 25, 2016. Photo courtesy of EUTERS/Gretchen Ertl *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-WAX-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Jan. 26, 2016.

(RNS) In 1999, Donald Trump claimed to be “pro-choice in every respect”, to the point he would have opposed a ban on late-term and partial-birth abortions. His position at that time reflected the extreme edges of abortion ideology. A mere 14 percent of Americans believe third-trimester abortions should be legal.

But Trump has since switched sides, a move that makes sense in today’s political climate. Since the 1990s, abortion has become one of the starkest and most consistent lines of demarcation between Democrats and Republicans. It is virtually inconceivable that a Democrat opposing abortion or a Republican supporting legal abortion could win the respective party’s presidential nomination.

In a debate last year, Trump claimed he had “evolved” on the issue of the abortion. “I am very, very proud to say that I am pro-life,” the GOP candidate said.

But the way Trump described his “evolution” from the pro-choice to pro-life position raises some interesting questions.

He said: “Friends of mine years ago were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn’t aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child. And I saw that. And I saw other instances.”

Now, I’m one who cheers whenever someone publicly switches from supporting abortion rights to supporting human rights for all — including the unborn. I am glad to see people like Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, or Bernard Nathanson, founder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, become pro-life activists.


RELATED STORY: How the presidential candidates’ extreme abortion positions distort a growing consensus (COMMENTARY) 


But I find it difficult to cheer Trump’s conversion, because the reason he gives for being pro-life doesn’t correspond to the pro-life ethic.

Trump says he is pro-life because of a “superstar” child who could have been aborted.

Consider how he responded to a reporter who wondered if he would have become pro-life had the child been a “loser”: “Probably not, but I’ve never thought of it. I would say no, but in this case it was an easy one because he’s such an outstanding person.”

To summarize Trump’s view: “I’m pro-life because we shouldn’t abort fetuses that may grow up to be outstanding people.”

But opponents of abortion take a different position: “I’m pro-life because we shouldn’t kill innocent human beings, no matter who they might grow up to be.”

Trump’s reason for being pro-life depends on the potential outcome of the child in the womb, rather than the fact that there is a child in the womb. But the pro-life ethic is grounded in the inherent worth of all humanity. It is wrong to commit violence against innocent human beings. Full stop.

And that’s where, ironically, Trump’s position sounds similar to the pro-choice idea that the human fetus is “potential life” or that the value of the unborn depends on whether or not the child is “wanted.”

Extending Trump’s logic leads to more problems. If we adopt the position of abortion opponents merely because of what a child may grow up to be (a “superstar!”), then why should we care if 67 percent of Down syndrome children are aborted after a prenatal diagnosis? What would Trump say if he were told there’s a better chance an “unwanted” child from an impoverished or minority neighborhood would grow up to be involved in crime?

These are not far-off questions in the abortion debate. Pro-life people are concerned with “gendercide” in Asia, where girls are aborted at much higher rates than boys. (The reason is often outcome-based. Families want boys to carry on the family name.)

Abortion opponents are also concerned with the social pressures that lead to higher abortion rates in minority communities, where, for example, in New York City, an African-American child is more likely to be aborted than born.

If the “right to life” is in any way dependent on what the probable outcome of a child will be, then we are right back where we were a century ago, when the forerunners of today’s abortion industry were advocating eugenics to “weed out” less desirable groups.

Trevin Wax is managing editor of the Gospel Project and author of multiple books, including “Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After.” Photo courtesy of LifeWay Media

Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project and author of multiple books, including “Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After.” Photo courtesy of LifeWay Media

Not surprisingly, when discussing the government’s unwillingness to fund abortions through taxes, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg claimed that at the time Roe v. Wade was decided “there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”

But back to Trump. Pro-life activists are always glad to welcome new people to their ranks — whether they are celebrities like Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, pundits like Bob Beckel or politicians like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

So it may seem like nitpicking to ask additional questions of Trump. But we have to ask these questions anyway, because they take us to the heart of the issue and help us discern the depth of their convictions.

For Trump, the crucial issue concerns what the unborn child could become. For most pro-life people, however, the crucial issue concerns what the unborn child already is.

(Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project and author of multiple books, including “Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After”)

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  • Awren

    Donald Trump will fix everything.

    His knowledge of the military complex is impressive
    His deep interest and long study of world affairs and their leaders can make everyone sleep a little easier
    Understanding the middle class and the plight of the poor has been a life long pursuit
    Opposing opinions always met with an open mind
    Deep belief in the bible, he is a devote disciple of its teachings
    We will surely sail through any world storm with his level head and calm thinking

    Thank Goodness, we’re all a little scared and Daddy’s Home

  • John Cahill

    Trump is about as anti-abortion as Reagan who, as governor of California, signed the most liberal abortion law in the country at the time. They both had a political conversion, rather than a moral one. It was only Reagan’s professional skills as an actor that gave any credence to his so called pro-life position. Trump, although a showman, is certainly not an actor. If you believe him about his pro-life views than I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you (or perhaps a casino in Atlantic City)

  • Given the function of law is to throttle harmful acts of men, motive would not seem to be important as long as the harmful act is restrained. However, motive could indicate how one might support contradicting policy in the future, given the right argument. That said, looking at motive in a broader sense, we find many people—including Christians—oppose abortion, but gladly use birth control, sharing the same motives as those pro-choice. Motive is important in the eyes of God.

  • George Sidor

    From a pragmatic standpoint, it doesn’t really matter how one becomes anti-abortion, if they support anti-abortion legislation and make it harder to have one.

    Trump seems to be championing the American middle and lower class, even though he is among the elite. Does he really believe in what he’s saying? Perhaps he does, perhaps he doesn’t. But how he acts is ultimately what matters.

    If he can create an economic environment where businesses are encouraged to bring jobs back to the US, and helps work with other countries to stop the insane tax loopholes which also help export jobs, then perhaps he’ll be a good president.

    God can work on anyone’s heart. Perhaps God will change
    (or is changing) Trump’s heart, so that he wants to do the right thing. Perhaps he realizes that life isn’t all about money. We certainly know that Obama’s heart is extremely hardened, like Pharoah’s. Both knew what was right, and refused to do it. God’s plans and purposes will…

  • Trevor

    Pretty great post. But I think maybe you blur the line a little between Trump’s reason for becoming pro-life and Trump’s pro-life reasoning. The event itself that precipitated a change in opinion is what it is. There is a difference between the questions (a) “What events led you to change your mind to your present opinion?” and (b) “What is your rational defense of your present opinion?,” but both could be understood in the question “Why do you now believe X?” It seems Trump took line (a), and you’re pegging him with line (b). I know you are sharp and I want you to have the sharpest logic you can in your writing career.

  • Robyn

    His change didn’t just happen at the last years debate, you should stop listening to the MSM media lies. And I thought God was the only one who could judge? This is exactly why the numbers are dropping in religious faiths.

    The truth is Trump changed in 2011: Donald Trump Explains Conversion to Pro-Life Side on Abortion http://www.lifenews.com/2011/04/08/donald-trump-explains-conversion-to-pro-life-side-on-abortion/

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  • Scott Shaver

    Agreed.

    Tragedy that wholesale abortion on demand is the law and liberal mantra of a nation. Otherwise, folks who come to their senses wouldn’t be discouraged for taking the right path.

  • Shannon

    The problem with this article is that Donald Trump was pro-choice in September of 2015! Just about 2 months before he said he had changed “several years ago”! He is as pro abortion as if he had money invested in it.

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