Donald Trump, Abortion, and Big Eva

Evangelicals Need to Think Politically About Abortion

Donald Trump’s statement on abortion last week caused a firestorm on the Right. 

Some have pledged not to vote for Trump in the fall—even after they did both in 2016 and 2020. He’s been likened to Stephen A. Douglas, the author of the much-maligned Kansas-Nebraska Act who sacrificed principle for a seeming prudential compromise on slavery in antebellum America. Lila Rose, the founder and president of Live Action, wrote that “President Trump is not a pro-life candidate” and “supports killing some preborn children.” (If she includes the three exceptions Trump has always stood for—rape, incest, and the life of the mother—then all the other Republican hopefuls in the 2024 GOP primary would fail this test too.) 

There are certainly legitimate gripes one can have with Trump’s abortion announcement. His enthusiastic endorsement of IVF, while politically understandable, is misguided. Also, his elevation of the will of the people of the states to something approaching a principle rather than a means is questionable rhetorical framing, though his ultimate wish for “the states to do the right thing” demonstrates that his paeans to federalism should not be confused with relativism. 

Interestingly, Trump’s statement is not that much of a departure from what he’s previously said about abortion since 2015. He has supported including three exceptions in abortion laws that virtually all national Republicans have agreed on for decades. Furthermore, his public pitch for overturning Roe mostly relied on two arguments: it ran roughshod over the states, and most conservative and even some liberal legal scholars thought it was a poorly argued decision. As Center for Baptist Leadership Executive Director William Wolfe pointed out, Trump’s positions as a whole are perhaps even somewhat better than the abortion policies the compassionate conservative George W. Bush ran on during his 2000 campaign. 

In his statement, Trump was attempting to offer a realistic assessment in light of the current stakes the pro-life cause faces. After Roe was overturned, the ground under the old pro-life consensus shifted dramatically. But the pro-life movement has been seemingly unable to navigate the new terrain, losing key battle after key battle. As the presidents of two pro-life organizations admitted at RealClearPolicy yesterday, last year deep red Ohio became the 26th state to allow late-term abortion. One wonders how these pro-life leaders have been able to keep their jobs.

Stepping in, Trump attempted to set new parameters, rightly seeing the states as the locus of setting abortion policy going forward, a point that American Reformer editor-in-chief Timon Cline emphasized at World earlier this week. In homing in on the states, Cline rightly notes that Trump is making a “judgment of political realism, the art of the possible.” Instead of spending valuable resources and time on the federal level, Trump thinks the pro-life movement should be focusing all its attention on the state level. Given current circumstances, this is not at all unreasonable. 

Rather than explore these nuances of practical politics, however, evangelical elites have yet again elevated performative outrage far above political discernment and prudential calculation. As Jon Harris pointed out, Big Eva has finally mustered the courage to attack a political leader’s stance on abortion—but that person is Donald Trump, not Joe Biden.

Former Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear wrote that Trump’s statement “betrays the heart of the pro-life movement…. What President Trump said is NOT pro-life. It’s basically just less aggressive pro-choice.” Greear chose neither to give Trump guidance nor to offer prayers that he would re-think his approach but to attack him on social media. 

This is of a piece with Greear’s general social media strategy when it comes to national politics: denounce Trump while remaining silent on the endless evils of the Biden administration. 

Greear, of course, gives Trump no credit for the pro-life key victories that were achieved under his watch. A search for the terms “Trump” “abortion” on Pastor Greear’s X account yields no results. Neither do other iterations including “Trump” “Dobbs” and “Trump” “Roe.” When Roe was overturned, Greear failed to mention Trump by name in his public statement at the time. This petty display is the opposite of the sharp political mind that evangelicals need to cultivate.

As usual, Russell Moore has continued to speak truth to power against Trump, this time on CNN. In a segment on Anderson Cooper 360, Moore said that the 45th President of the United States lacks the requisite “moral vision” to understand why “every human life is valuable.” This from the same person who, per Megan Basham, said he saw the “fruits of the Spirit” in former NIH Director Francis Collins with the full knowledge that Collins funded “experiments from the harvested body parts of full-term babies.” Why Moore gives Collins a pass while he steamrolls Trump—along with his evangelical voters—at every opportunity is a question that deserves a serious answer. Character matters.

The word “cynicism” doesn’t even begin to capture what’s going on here. While Trump’s critics in evangelical circles certainly don’t have to bow down at his feet, at least some acknowledgment of the pivotal work that was accomplished during his administration would have been appropriate. 

In a recent Washington Post column, former George W. Bush chief speechwriter Marc Thiessen listed Trump’s numerous pro-life accomplishments. These include allowing “states to withhold federal funds from Planned Parenthood,” prohibiting “Title X family-planning funds from going to clinics that perform abortions,” and being the first president to speak at the annual March for Life, while Kamala Harris became the first vice president to visit an abortion clinic.

Instead, evangelical elites like Greear and Moore decided to dump on the one person running in the 2024 election who has racked up a string of impressive pro-life victories and will undoubtedly achieve more if elected again in November. Yet we are supposed to believe that selective moral preening is how Christians should approach politics. What would the magisterial Reformers have thought about such antics?

Fortunately, the aforementioned Center for Baptist Leadership took a far different tack. Rather than berate the former president with the usual litany of drive-by moral denunciations, William Wolfe put out a measured and thoughtful statement. He noted President Trump’s pro-life accomplishments and urged his administration to adopt equal protection measures at the federal level and in all 50 states that protect babies in the womb. “We exhort Trump to use his position of power and influence to cultivate a true culture of life in America, to listen to those who are committed to equal protection for the preborn, and make it a goal of his administration, if re-elected, to secure and protect their right to life,” Wolfe concluded. 

As Wolfe clearly understands, though having far-reaching goals is imperative, one must work within the system as it is now, not as one wishes it to be. 

Currently, congressional Republicans are nowhere close to achieving a 60-vote threshold needed to get good federal abortion legislation through Congress (and it’s doubtful that every current Republican in Congress would vote for such bills). Since the Dobbs decision, major pro-abortion measures have been approved by large majorities in deep red states like Ohio, Kentucky, and Kansas. A country featuring this level of moral rot—and apathy on the part of evangelical voters—seems light years away from abolishing abortion nationwide.

According to Daniel McCarthy, pro-lifers need to understand what time it is. He notes that the movement is currently in the midst of “a pitched battle to stop the other side from reestablishing a universal right to abortion”—“a battle they’ll lose without allies like Trump.”

To put it plainly, the future of abortion in the near term hinges on Trump’s re-election. As the pro-abortion movement increasingly talks itself into accepting abortion through all nine months of pregnancy—and some even openly touting infanticide—Trump is the only vehicle at the presidential level for the pro-life cause. 

Yes, there were candidates both in 2016 and 2020 that in principle were better on abortion than Donald Trump. But those candidates did not have the popular appeal Trump has—that is, they could not win. 

Moreover, a political ruler does not have to possess a perfect understanding of principles to be ruthlessly effective. After returning a copy of Aristotle’s Ethics that he borrowed, Winston Churchill remarked to the owner that he had figured out everything the philosopher taught before reading it. Embellishments aside, very few leaders are like Churchill in that way. Ultimately, achieving practical political victories matters more than possessing a systematic understanding of a topic in the abstract. 

In Trump, we have an imperfect ally who nevertheless has achieved crucial pro-life victories that eluded pro-life leaders and their preferred candidates for decades. Contrary to staunch critics like  Robert George, who seem to want only leaders who speak and act like, well, Robert George, Trump has shown he does not have to be that to be effective. 

Donald Trump is not going forward for ordination but is running for an office in which his duty is to ensure that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed and that citizens are protected in their basic rights, life being the first and foremost of the rights God granted to us. We are not voting to abolish abortion but choosing between what Trump offers or continuing the moral disaster of the Biden administration. There is simply no contest between these choices.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Mike Sabo

Mike Sabo is a Contributing Editor of American Reformer and an Assistant Editor of The American Mind, the online journal of the Claremont Institute. His writing has appeared at RealClearPolitics, The Federalist, Public Discourse, and American Greatness, among other outlets. He lives with his wife and son in Cincinnati.

2 thoughts on “Donald Trump, Abortion, and Big Eva

  1. I’ll still vote for him, but it doesn’t help that right after his statement, the Arizona state court reinstated their abortion ban, and Kari Lake condemned the decision. It’s not a good look that one of his major allies begins condemning a state’s decision to outlaw abortion. One would begin to question whether Trump is stating his true beliefs.

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