(RNS) — Yes, the proper initial response to Dobbs — at least for those of us who have been fighting for prenatal justice for so long — was absolute euphoria. It was an incredible, improbable victory, though one that only created the conditions for the possibility of protecting all human beings equally with the law. Obviously, there is so much work still ahead of us.
But as the initial intense feelings wore off, I must admit I started thinking about the following difficult truth: Without pro-lifers supporting Donald Trump, this victory would not have been possible. How should those of us who loathed this odious man — and who urged fellow pro-lifers to refuse to support him — process such an inconvenient truth?
Some have reacted by refusing to see the conditions for the possibility of prenatal justice as a good thing. But this lets the idol of secular politics set the agenda — rather than making the full faith commitment to the equal dignity and treatment of all human beings. Better to acknowledge that, sometimes, very good things come from candidates you wish were not in office. This also happened during the Trump administration with criminal justice reform and the support of disabled populations during the pandemic. Something similarly good came with the Affordable Care Act during the administration of Barack Obama — who, at the time, was the first president deeply and aggressively committed to abortion rights.
Though we may wish with all our might someone other than Trump or Obama had been in office, it does the concepts of truth and justice no favors to pretend something they did was bad when in fact it was very good.
So the question is: How should pro-lifers react now to the likelihood of another Trump run at the presidency?
As David French put it, even if one supported him in the past, there is no remaining case for Donald Trump. Pro-lifers who held their nose to vote for the lesser evil now have what they wanted. I’m as surprised as anyone (especially given Trump’s pro-abortion past) that they did, but this is now an undeniable fact.
But especially in light of Trump’s possibly criminal and definitely horrible inaction on Jan. 6, it is time for pro-lifers to abandon the nose-holding, smash the MAGA idol and find a different way forward. Indeed, here’s one thing I was certainly right about in my critique of pro-lifers making Trump the face of their movement: So many people we need to win over (especially young people) are now unable to separate the pro-life movement from a deep-seated hatred of MAGA.
This fact was on full display this past week when Dr. Kristin Collier, associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, gave an invited and prestigious keynote lecture at the white coat ceremony that welcomes first-year medical students into their community. The lecture itself, as everyone in that community knew, was not about abortion — but the simple fact that Dr. Collier had a conversion from pro-choice to pro-life was enough for over half the incoming class to sign a petition insisting she be de-platformed and replaced with a different speaker.
For them, simply publicly acknowledging that she is pro-life (an identity claimed by roughly half the population over multiple decades) was enough to make her so odious that they concluded she must not be given a platform. This despite the fact that Dr. Collier was given such a prestigious platform in the first place precisely because she was so respected and beloved a teacher and colleague.
Collier’s response to the resistance, however, gives us a game plan for firmly but gently winning over the next generation to the pro-life movement’s message of nonviolence and radical equality for every single human being. The game plan consists of three parts.
First, under extreme pressure from students, from the media, even from very senior colleagues at the medical school, Dr. Collier refused to back down. She was not going to let her support for prenatal justice derail her speaking at the event. To do so would have given in to the bullies, to the heckler’s veto, and would have given an implicit green light to other administrations to do the same to pro-lifers.
Second, despite a firestorm of media requests and public, vicious attacks to her good name, she refused to do media interviews — trying as best she could to keep the focus, not on herself, but on the students and on the subject of her invited keynote lecture: discerning the meaning of medicine and health care through the kinds of questions asked by the humanities.
Third, to the extent that she did respond on social media, she emphasized both (1) her relationships with pro-choice students who loved her and (2) her firm and abiding commitment to a consistent ethic of life. Indeed, when looking through her record, even NPR was forced to admit that Dr. Collier has “advocated for better health care access for incarcerated people and residents of rural America” and “written about racism, ageism, and ableism in medicine.”
Such a firm commitment to an agenda that no one could dismiss as MAGA puts Collier in the perfect position to undo the damage inflicted on the pro-life movement by its connection to Donald Trump. As I wrote in my column last month, with the defeat of Roe and Casey there is now a profound opportunity for the movement to write a new script for what I’m calling “Pro-Life 3.0.” This version of the movement has the potential to reach many more people with a much more consistent focus on applying our principles in ways that appeal to folks with different kinds of political and ideological commitments.
Happily, Dr. Collier’s courage and steadfast commitment to consistently applying her pro-life principles has given us the game plan for doing this. Now is the time to go out there and execute it.