Opinion

One year later: Is Trump the most pro-life president in modern history?

President Trump, right, and Neil Gorsuch smile as Trump nominates Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 31, 2017. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

(RNS) — Is Donald Trump the most pro-life president in modern history? Only a year after his election, some traditional pro-life leaders are answering in the affirmative.

In interrogating this claim, let’s put aside the somewhat obvious point that being pro-life is about more than being anti-abortion. Whether one includes euthanasia, the death penalty, sexual violence or other related issues, nearly everyone who claims the name has pro-life concerns that go beyond abortion.

And if we go beyond abortion, Trump’s pro-life record falls apart pretty quickly. From nuclear escalations, to refusals to welcome the refugee and immigrant stranger, to proposals that cut health care for the most vulnerable, the current occupant of the White House refuses to respect human dignity in the broad and consistent way Pope John Paul II urged in his great encyclical on the Gospel of Life.

But because not all pro-lifers take similar approaches to issues that go beyond abortion, let’s interrogate the claim that Trump is “the most pro-life president in modern history” with a focus on that one issue.

A few weeks before the election I wrote a piece in The Washington Post trying to sound the pro-life alarm with regard to Trump. Like several pro-life convert Republican presidential candidates before him (Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Mitt Romney, etc.), Trump was pro-choice almost all of his adult life. Indeed, he was pro-choice “in every respect,” even for partial-birth abortion. He refused to say he wanted to overturn Roe and suggested his pro-choice sister as a candidate for the Supreme Court.

Simply put, I didn’t think he would follow through with his pro-life promises.

About this aspect of my argument, I must say, I was wrong. It appears the pro-life advisers he took on (Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway and others) have convinced him to do political things that are anti-abortion, regardless of what may be in his heart. His Supreme Court and federal appeals court appointments have been good in this regard, as have his appointments and policies with respect to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But, as we’ve seen in the careers of Supreme Court justices such as Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor, confirmed Republican nominees don’t always turn out to rule as expected on abortion, and therefore don’t justify the huge weight so many pro-lifers put on them. And while Trump’s HHS appointments and policies have been admirably anti-abortion, they are fleeting decisions that could be changed by the next president.

So what Trump has done so far, while good from an anti-abortion perspective, is anything but a fundamental shift. At a minimum, we need to wait and see what his judicial appointments do before we can make a judgment.

Trump has said he will sign a 20-week abortion ban (the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act), but that is easy when there is no way it can currently pass Congress. He has also said he would defund Planned Parenthood, a much-more achievable goal as this could be done with a simple Republican majority via budget rules. Trump has done nothing to advocate for this important anti-abortion agenda item. On the contrary, the defunding of Planned Parenthood (for one year only) was cynically put into a health care reform plan to garner pro-life support for the bill.

Tellingly, the current budget plan being pushed by Trump funds Planned Parenthood.

Furthermore, while anti-abortion pro-lifers must be concerned with abortion “supply,” we also must be concerned with “demand.” And the demand for abortion is strong often because vulnerable women lack resources and structural supports.

Budget proposals that would cut health care by $1.8 trillion and health care reform bills that would cut $800 billion for the poor would lead to more abortions. Repealing provisions of the Pregnant Women Support Act in the Affordable Care Act, and turning pregnancy back into a “pre-existing condition,” would lead to more abortions. Appointing Supreme Court and federal judges who are unfriendly to social supports for women — from health care to paid family leave — would lead to more abortions.

So, even if we take a short-term view (say, five to 10 years down the road), it just isn’t clear what the net effect of Trump and his policies is going to be. Though he has clearly done some good things, the overall result may be more prenatal children killed via abortion. We just don’t know.

But we can be more confident about the medium- and longer-term effect of this presidency. With Trump’s face as the face of the movement, pro-lifers jeopardize the gains we were making among young people. Trump has a bottom-of-the-barrel 21 percent approval rating among millennials, with even worse numbers among young women and people of color.

If the pro-life movement continues to be closely associated with the repugnant views, causes and ramblings of our current president — particularly when they are anti-woman (a largely unjust charge that pro-lifers must nevertheless resist) — we will grasp defeat from the jaws of victory and lose the next generation to an abortion-rights agenda.

Even before Trump came along, pro-lifers were forced to spend the majority of our time trying to dissociate ourselves from caricatures and stereotypes. With few exceptions, this was the only way to get to a place where people with different views would even bother to listen. The cultural baggage associated with the movement was just that substantial.

But post-Trump, the baggage is on the verge of becoming overwhelming. Pro-life views are now deeply tied to a man who is associated with sexism, racism and narcissism, and this will be how today’s young people will think of pro-lifers for decades to come.

No, Donald Trump is not the most pro-life president in modern history. On the contrary, the damage he has done to the movement is incalculable.

(Charles C. Camosy is associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University and author of “Beyond the Abortion Wars.” The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

About the author

Charles C. Camosy

Charlie Camosy, though a native of very rural Wisconsin, has spent more than the last decade as a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University. He is the author of five books, including, most recently, "Resisting Throwaway Culture." He is the father of four children, three of whom were adopted from the Philippines.

41 Comments

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  • “Pro-Life” is an epithet which is meaningless because the antiabortion groups which claim it support war, oppression, poverty, deprivation, the death penalty, and murder by police officers with their political alliances with proto-fascism. Moreover their narrow political agenda has nothing to do with reducing abortion, just criminalizing it, a bad public policy based on unconstitutional oppression of women.Mr. Trump may indeed by the President most favorable ever to their political platform, if only because he is forced to appease them after having lost everyone else but the plutocrats and them.

  • Pro-life has always been a misnomer. Fetus worship is far more descriptive and appropriate to describe the point of view. It is one which is absolutely hostile to the lives of the born, especially women. Choosing instead to promote the fiction that a fetus is a person, but its mother is simply their property to command.

    “Pro-life views are now deeply tied to a man who is associated with sexism, racism and narcissism, and this will be how today’s young people will think of pro-lifers for decades to come.”

    The author pretends that the anti-abortion crowd ever cared about the lives of people. So he acts shocked that they support starving mothers and children, promote war, promote pollution, But the reality is that their position was always about asserting undue control over others, acting sanctimoniously and showing utter hostility to the lives of people. Trump only made the repugnant parts of their views more obvious. Less respectable looking to the public than reality could ever permit anyway.

    Mr. Camosy, Trump is your problem. Own it and stop being such a whinybaby about it. Your complete disregard for the personhood of women was one of many reasons you and many like you choose to support one of the most malicious and incompetent people to ever inhabit the White House. You don’t like how that ended up, well don’t expect sympathy.

  • Camosy was never a Trump supporter. Why should he “own it?” To validate all the claims you make in your post, quote for us all where Camosy has supported Trump. Thank you. We are all waiting…especially those of us who don’t care “about the lives of people.”

  • I’m glad to see you at least mentioned demand of abortion. You got that right at least. This is what Catholic Democrats is all about, funding programs which greatly reduce the desire or need for abortions. Research-demand for abortion always declines with a democratic president. Boohoo, you got what you voted for in the White House. Everyone knew what he was. If you didn’t, you weren’t informed enough or were hoping for a miracle.

  • By all means let’s pretend that furthering an anti abortion agenda wasn’t a major selling point for Trump.

    That people didn’t bandy about the epithet “Killary”when discussing their support of him. That people weren’t more then willing to overlook Trumps major moral lapses and complete instability for public office for the chance for an anti abortion judge on SCOTUS.

    Fetus worshipers overwhelmingly put Trump in office. Camosy is one of them.

  • Pro-life equates to proper use of contraceptives as there are over one million unplanned pregnancies every year in the USA because women fail to take their Pill daily . Ditto for men who do not use a condom when they have one in their pocket. When Trump et al start noting the real causes of all the unplanned pregnancies and resultant abortions then I will pay attention to their rhetoric.

  • I very much appreciate Mr. Camosy’s comprehensive approach to the ‘sanctity of life’ issues. Over and over I hear self-described staunchly ‘pro life’ people argue to relegate concerns about human ‘life’ as secondary to economic and political expediencies. Examples include deporting pregnant women back to likely death at the hands of ISIS or Guatemalan drug gangs, advocating pre-emptive nuclear strikes on major cities in Korea and the middle-east, which would kill millions including all the unborn children there, or cutting-off most of 20 Million Americans’ access to healthcare, to enthusiastic use of violence to solve international disputes, and placing gun-hobbyists access to military weapons ahead of the lives of countless victims of mass shootings. This causes us to doubt that even ‘pro-life’ advocates believe that ‘pro life’ argument actually holds-water, or is anything other than a slogan. Thankfully, there are ‘pro-life’ advocates like Mr. Camosy, largely in the Catholic world, who have a comprehensive approach to the issue which may be taken seriously by people honestly looking at the issue.

  • Pro-life is simply yet another political power and monetary ploy by religious conservatives. It’s been 46 years since Roe, and still, abortion is legal. But a great deal of power, money, and dominion have been accrued by the likes of Camosy and his fellow travelers.
    All of the effort and money they have spent could have been directed at a true pro-life approach, but instead, they also oppose birth control and responsible family planning. See Camosy’s repeated references to Planned Parenthood.
    always, follow the money.

  • I would be more willing to take Camosy seriously if he wasn’t whining about “pro-lifers” being stereotyped and caricatured. Those of us in favor of a woman’s right to an abortion are routinely called “pro-abort” baby killers. When I say that many in the “pro-life” camp want to put women and doctors in prison for murder, that’s because it’s exactly what they’ve said. So spare me the tears.

  • I think the article points out a very simple truth – Trump makes broad sweeping proclamations but often does nothing to back them up. In doing so, he is in a way smart — he has been able to rally a strong voter base without actually having to commit to potentially controversial changes.

    It is conventional wisdom that the best way to predict someone’s future actions is to review their past. Trump has mostly been pro-choice as an adult, a position he claimed when he was not running for public office as a GOP.

    So what is more probable?…that he did a 180-degree turn on his stance because of some new shift in personal values OR he decided it pragmatic to ape the views of his voter base to win?

  • I think all of us on both sides would favor a reduction in abortions…legal or not..moral or not…it is an invasive medical procedure. No picnic. The best scenario would be to produce a very effective pre-sex contraceptive (and we are close) and produce a very effective morning after device.

  • Given that this is an abortion topic…how many comments do you guys predict it will draw? I’m going for 200.

  • I agree with the author that “not all pro-lifers take similar approaches to issues that go beyond abortion.” For example, many seem to have no problem with a reliably anti-abortion GOP Senate candidate who has been credibly accused of taking a 14-year-old girl to his house, removing her clothes and his, and touching her breasts and genitals through her underwear. I guess the “sexual violence” you describe isn’t a concern for them.

  • I think it’s fair to call Trump the most pro-life president in history. First, he has nominated pro-life judges. Second, he stopped Hillary from nominating pro-abortion judges.

  • Trump is no conservative and certainly no Christian. He’s a businessman who simply saw an opportunity and took it. Which is why I always smile at the rage directed at him by liberals, for he is their creation. He seized the presidency merely by taking up the issues that ordinary people care very much about but that the Dems contemptuously ignored and most of the Repubs were afraid to touch for fear of their corporate fat cat supporters. And abortion is the very LEAST of those issues.

  • Wow. The comments are most revealing. So pro-lifers are “fetus worshipers”? And then there’s the bot-like NeverTrump spewing of “racist, homophobe, narcissist.” Bottom line of the “seamless garment” crowd (including Camosy): Keep voting pro-aborts into office.

  • Basically, all you need to know about the large rate of abortions and what to do about it:

    Percentage of women experiencing an unintended pregnancy :

    Some examples

    Method……………..Typical (Guttmacher statistics)

    Pill (combined)……… 8.7 (resulting in ~one millon unplanned pregnancies/year)
    Tubal sterilization ……0.7
    Male condom ……….17.4 (resulting in ~one million unplanned pregnancies/year)
    Vasectomy…………… 0.2
    Implant…………………1.0
    IUD (Copper-T)……….1.0
    (Masturbation mono or dual)………. 0
    (Abstinence)………………………………..0

    And the abortion rate in the USA? ~one million/year.

    Ok, Mr. Trump et al, your turn!!

  • Yours is a far too simplistic and broad characterization denigrating a wide swath of people without nuance or distinction. It is a broadside from media headlines without scholarly merit.

  • As usual, I largely agree with and support your argument, but I must confess I cringed at your assertion that, “abortion is the very LEAST of those issues.”

  • While you and I would doubtless differ over all the potential harmful consequences of unfettered and careless sex, I do agree with you that as long as people are having sex with no desire for conception, then the least costly and most practical measure is common sense birth control, though I am very doubtful that most people have the necessary discipline to practice it.

  • What I mean by that is not that it was the least significant morally but it was the least influential of the issues that got Trump into the White House. I think Trump’s voters were far more motivated by immigration enforcement and getting rid of the Obamacare mess.

  • I’m afraid Mr.Camosy that you are wrong. Trump’s actions prove he is the most pro-life president in recent times. Whether or not some people dislike his other actions, that does not subtract from the wonderful pro-life actions he has taken in the past year. They put the initiatives of the Bushs to shame!

  • Your legacy is hypocrisy. Your mindless obsession with controlling what women do with their bodies has led you all to make a political alliance with a horrific monster of a man who only cares about himself and punishing all his enemies. Your joining in Republicans as they attack the poor and serve the rich, you’ve joined forces with racists and xenophobia, all for this.

    Christians disgust me. Hypocrites, all of you. Go directly to hell, you all deserve it.

  • Hell? Where might that be or is it just another mythical place to keep the pew peasants in line?

  • I’m no more “pleased” than I am watching tantrums of ill-behaved children in stores. Merely amused, because the situation is of the tantrummers’ own making.

    It isn’t really the president that enrages these “fellow countrymen.” It’s the voters who would not buy Hillary’s agenda and snatched away the brass ring of permanent Democrat control over government. Why did your party refuse to listen?

  • To your way of thinking, but it is problematic in that instead of the surgeon’s scalpel, you have applied a butcher’s meat ax. Not a prescription for the survival of a patient.

  • Expanding the war:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2017: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.
    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

  • And you CONTINUE to argue with me, the guy who’s on your side against these dangerous Dominionists.

    God you’re stupid.

  • So it wasn’t the republicans who would Vote for anybody Republican, it wasn’t the evangelicals who proved at their idea of morals and family values don’t count as long as the candidate is a republican.

    It’s all the liberals fault.

    Ok.

  • Hi, Mr. Charles C. Camosy! Although 1 of America’s most pro-life presidents in modern history, maybe Donald J. Trump is not necessarily the most pro-life president in present history yet!

  • People who sincerely call on & receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior & His death as their atoning Sacrifice for their sins are forevermore bound to Heaven, not hell; because as Christians & not hypocrites[unlike probably in our sinful past], we who are willingly & sincerely pro-life choose Heaven & don’t have to go to that lake of fire if we don’t want to [as Holy Scripture says], I’d never tell you, even our unsaved human foes & neighbors to “go to hell” if I were you since according to Holy Scripture, humans who went in hell chose to let the devil lead them down that horrible road despite the LORD God Almighty of Heaven never sending them there like He will send to that lake of fire the devil & his other fallen angels [Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 30:11-15, 19/Joshua 24:14-27/1st Samuel 7:2-4; 12:14-15, 20-21, 23-24/1st Kings 18:21, 36-40/2nd Chronicles 13:10-12; 29:2, 5-11/Isaiah 1:18-20/Jeremiah 21:8/Amos 5:14-15/Zephaniah 2:1-3/Matthew 7:13-15, 24-27; 10:32-33; 25:34, 41/Luke 7:29-30; 9:22-26; 13:1-5, 23-30/John 3:2-8, 11-21, 26-36; 12:23-36a.44-50/Acts 4:10-12/Romans 2:3-11; 5:15-21; 6:12-16, 22-23/1st Thessalonians 5:17-22/Titus 2:11-14/Hebrews 10:37-39/2nd Peter 3:9/Revelation 3:15-21; 20:10-15; 22:11-17]! Please take this to heart before it’s too late for you one day forever!❤

  • Yes yes yes…you’ve given yourself free license to behave as badly as you want to and support horrific men who brag about hurting people because you’re “saved.”

    I’m more than familiar with your twisted, self-serving ideology.

    There is nothing even remotely Christ-like about your behavior. If you’d really accepted him as your savior you’d want to emulate him. You’re lying to me, and you’re lying to yourself about accepting Christ. But the Almighty knows what you hide in the innermost recesses of your heart. You can fool yourself, and you can fool other people, but you can’t fool Him.

  • You’re wasting your time.

    These people WANT women to end up with unwanted pregnancies as punishment for enjoying S-E-X that’s not intended for procreation.

  • Fascinating that you’re unaware of what that last sentence reveals about yourself.

    Y’know, considering that a key part of your ideology is that you’re supposed to be saving those who don’t share it, I’d think you would want to be acutely aware of how you come across to others. So instead of whining about how mean the comments are, you should be learning from them.

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