Pro-Life Politics and Donald Trump

Thinking Through the Latest Controversy Regarding Trump and Abortion

The removal of pro-life language from the 2024 Republican Party platform has reignited a firestorm among evangelicals. Donald Trump is back to being persona non grata among prominent Christians just as the GOP is set to nominate him as its presidential candidate during the Republican National Convention next week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The following sentences, which were part of the GOP’s platform in both 2016 and 2020 (they were added to the platform in 1984), were removed at Trump’s direction: 

Accordingly, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth. 

The new platform language on abortion reads as follows:

We proudly stand for families and life. We believe that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees that no person can be denied life or liberty without due process and that the states are, therefore, free to pass laws protecting those rights. After 51 years, because of us, that power has been given to the states and to a vote of the people. We will oppose late term abortion while supporting mothers and policies that advance prenatal care, access to birth control, and IVF (fertility treatments).

In this slimmed-down 2024 platform that Trump himself created, this mention of abortion comes near the end of the document. Abortion is discussed nowhere in the platform’s 20 key principles.

The answers of two key senators on the Sunday morning talk circuit helped generate even more passion among evangelicals against the changes to the Republican Party platform. Senator Marco Rubio told CNN’s Dana Bash that with the fall of Roe, people in the states now get to decide abortion policies. Passing a federal law on abortion, he argued, is out of the question due to political circumstances.

On Meet the Press, Senator J.D. Vance essentially restated the elements of the new GOP platform. He, too, said abortion is a question for voters in the states to resolve and that the GOP is working to ensure that it’s more affordable for families to have babies. More controversially, he also supported Americans having access to mifepristone, an abortion pill, per a recent decision by the Supreme Court. Vance’s response comes on the heels of the publication of the Project 2025 policy agenda, which the Biden campaign is trying to hang around Trump’s neck. 

Before evangelicals cast a vote for the American Solidarity Party in November, they should think more deeply about the implications of the changes to the GOP platform—and the future of the pro-life cause in America.

First off, the Republican Party has never been as strongly opposed to abortion as many evangelicals would like. It has never stood for the abolition of abortion nationwide, without exceptions. No previous Republican president or presidential hopeful supported outlawing all abortions. President Trump supported a 20-week national ban on abortion in 2016 and 2020 as part of the GOP’s platform (this legislation failed in the Senate in 2018). Were these honorable pro-life stances, or were they all betrayals of the pro-life cause? 

Another consideration is that Trump’s campaign team is clearly trying to cobble together a wining national constituency in a post-Roe milieu. His goal is not to craft the perfect set of laws, but to correctly discern the political environment and then act prudentially given the constraints he faces. This is why Trump’s messaging on abortion throughout the 2024 campaign, which has been the same as what now appears in the GOP’s updated platform, has been to let people in the states decide the question of abortion in the hopes that they choose life. 

Though clearly an imperfect solution—abortion is a great evil whatever voters decide—Trump is trying to navigate political terrain that’s arguably more difficult to traverse than what past Republican campaigns faced when Roe was still law. Performative measures, some of which simply kept up appearances, and symbolic legislation that never had a chance of passing are no longer enough. And it must be pointed out that the pro-life stalwarts who have steered the movement for decades have clearly been unable to attain any notable victories apart from Trump, a recent convert to the cause. 

There is also no question that current political realities preclude the passage of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. While past GOP platforms supported adding a human rights amendment to the Constitution, this was unsuccessful at a time when church attendance was higher than it is now and more Americans identified as being Christian. If the support was insufficient in 1984 to pass such an amendment, it certainly isn’t there currently.

Furthermore, evangelicals must understand that they are not the only constituency that Trump is worried about keeping in his fold. As Daniel Darling points out, the mostly unchurched working-class voters that Trump is attempting to bring into the Republican Party are “ambivalent at best about abortion.” Instead, they are “more animated by immigration” and “trade,” among other issue areas. This group also votes in higher numbers than traditional evangelicals—Darling notes that “only 13% of the GOP showed up in the Iowa primary.” This is exactly why Trump is currently spending more political capital on this group than evangelicals, who also face another disadvantage because their political views are not as popular as those of the working class. If evangelicals voted in larger numbers, however, this problem would largely be mitigated. 

Not only do evangelicals not vote in the numbers that they should—if they did, Republicans would win every national election in a landslide—neither do they give sufficient money to the pro-life cause. For example, a political action committee in favor of adding abortion protections prior to fetal viability to the Florida Constitution has so far received $38 million in contributions. Meanwhile, pro-lifers have only given $269,000, with $105,000 of that coming from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops and two Catholic dioceses. In fact, historically, far more money has gone to pro-abortion causes than pro-life ones. Open Secrets has reported that pro-abortion groups have outspent pro-life groups by a significant margin, though this gap has closed significantly since the Dobbs decision.

The pro-life movement itself also has a role to play in helping create our current dilemma. Though well intended, the “love them both” slogan that is common in the pro-life world moves perilously close to denying women who get an abortion any culpability in that act, softening its great moral evil. This tactic is far different than how Christians tend to treat less socially acceptable sins, which increasingly are even accompanied by heavy ostracism and cancellation campaigns for those who are targeted. 

Also, though the popular refrain that abortion is pre-political is true—that life begins at conception can never be altered by the vote of a majority—this doesn’t change the fact that abortion is unfortunately a political issue in our day. Though we would rather it was not, it has become so due to many reasons, including the failures of pastors, the capitulation of men to modern feminism, and easy access to the abortion pill.

Since abortion is on the ballot, this also means it’s competing with other political issues in the minds of voters, including immigration, the economy, and so on. Most people are not single-issue voters and instead view politics as a series of tradeoffs between candidates who will necessarily have flaws of some kind. Pro-lifers of goodwill can disagree on how they judge a specific candidate and not betray their consciences. And a candidate who changes his views on abortion does not necessarily betray his previously stated principles. R.R. Reno noted in a recent First Things pro-life symposium that “measures short of full protection of the unborn can be supported, as long as we are clear that these compromises are for the sake of securing the conditions propitious to the fuller implementation of the pro-life cause in the future.” The question pro-life evangelicals must contend with is if Trump himself violated this standard—and the answer to that is not as immediately obvious as it seems. 

The structural issues that have led to our culture of death must also be reformed. Our social safety net must be changed to disincentivize out of wedlock births, including the imposition of serious legal consequences. Fathers must be incentivized to stay with their families—both through the law and a culture that shames men who abandon their wives and children. Family courts must be significantly reformed to stamp out the clear issues in that system. No-fault divorce, which created the conditions that led to a notable increase in abortion, should be repealed. And government benefits should be tied to having a stable, two parent household.

Dreams of nominating Ron DeSantis at the top of the ticket next week will not help matters—it’s inevitable that Trump will be the Republican nominee in 2024. Evangelicals must therefore work within the present reality, where imperfections abound. As Edmund Burke once wrote, “Indeed, all that wise men ever aim at is to keep things from coming to the worst. Those who expect perfect reformations, either deceive or are deceived miserably.”

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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.

13 thoughts on “Pro-Life Politics and Donald Trump

  1. Much of what was said in the above article applies to non-conservatives who are rightly disturbed by Biden’s cognitive impairments. We, and that includes some religiously conservative Christians, need to look at Biden’s decaying abilities in the context of the alternative, which would be Trump and possibly Project 2025, as well as the current performance of the Biden Administration. We must always remember Jan 6, 2021 and what that failed attempt intended to do. We must also remember the Immigration Bill that the CBS patrol agents agreed with but was opposed by Republicans because of the political problems it would cause for Trump.

    As for pro-life, we need to remember that the unborn are not the only living humans in America. Certainly elective abortion is a horrendous atrocity practiced in America. But caring for those who have been born should be part of being pro-life too. And one of the pragmatic ways we can reduce abortions is to support social safety net and jobs programs that reduce the pressure that some feel to get an abortion–we should remember that that is not the only way to oppose abortion.

    We need to remember that climate change and the environment are pro-life concerns too. Battling poverty is a pro-life issue. Even discrimination against and the marginalization of groups have effects that sometimes violate the pro-life respect for life.

    In reality, neither of our 2 major political parties can claim that they are pro-life kosher. And so whether one is a conservative Republican or a non-conservative other, one needs to rationally advance the pro-life respect for life.

    1. Being pro-life has never meant paying more taxes to the government to change the weather and perpetuate poverty through government handouts.
      Quite frankly, your comment should be disregarded since politically conservative Christians and churches are the predominant demographic supporting post-birth pro-life efforts. These efforts supply women/couples facing unplanned pregnancies with free diapers, food, equipment like car seats and strollers, etc. These places also offer free courses to help prepare the unexpected parents to prepare for parenthood, as well as connections to churches and other community groups for their social, spiritual, and vocational wellbeing. Christians are also the people most willing to adopt and foster children, even in the flawed system that currently exists.
      We thoroughly disagree on what being pro life is, and I venture to not use the term (favoring it for anti-abortion), because people like you attempt to subvert it with absurd an leftist agenda. I have no interest in the modern climate change movement and have no desire to continue to fund abused government programs. Even then, if we were to equate the aforementioned topics with being pro-life, the approach you offer stifles the life of the common person through the levying of more regulations and taxes.

      1. Andrew,
        If the pro-life movement has never meant caring about climate change, which is different from changing the weather, or poverty, then it is consistently pro-life. And that was my point about both the dems and the repubs. Neither are consistently pro-life.

        The label pro-life is more than just about pro-birth. It is great that “pro-life” people are helping women in need and children without parents. BTW, we financially contribute to that. But being pro-life doesn’t end with helping those women and their children. If one also supports efforts that continue to bring on climate change, poison the environment, continue to ignore poverty, allow for the wrong people to own guns, allow for guns to become more powerful and able to kill more people, ignore or stoke racism, or support immoral wars, one is being inconsistent with being pro-life. Why is that? It is because climate change, a poisoned environment, poverty, the easy access to powerful guns, racism, and immoral wars also unnecessarily kill people. And so it doesn’t matter whether you care about those issues or not or reflexively reject everything Leftists say?

        You’re right about politically conservative Christians and I appreciate you making the distinction between that and religiously conservative Christians. But why be tribal about political conservatism? Why be tribal about any political ism including liberalism or leftism? Isn’t our job is to be like the Bereans as they examined everything that Paul said when it comes to examining any political ism? And if the Bereans treated Paul that way, shouldn’t we be even more eager to take that approach to any political ism?

        Do we really want to claim that one’s own political ism is omniscient and thus has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them? If the answer to that question is a ‘Yes,’ then isn’t one in danger of playing the role of the Pharisee from the parable of the two men praying in Luke 18:9-14? I lean to Marx, but that doesn’t mean that I reflexively accept everything he has to say. In fact I am very critical of a significant amount of what he wrote.

        If the Scriptures are our canon, then it seems to me that we should be more than willing to find the holes that exist in what ever political ism that we personally prefer. Our significance comes from Christ dying for our sins, not in political ism that we like the most.

        1. It is both politically and religiously conservative Christians who primarily support the anti-abortion cause, given that religiously progressive Christians trend towards leftist politics. So a distinction was possibly made, but it fails to make the point you want it to.
          Your accusation of tribalism doesn’t resonate very well. I don’t understand how that label can be given to me for saying that given certain people hold certain religious convictions, it is therefore applied to their political thought and action. I am stating a fact, and if that makes me tribal to your definition, so be it.

          Here’s where we are going to continue to disagree. I obviously believe that we should steward the earth we have been blessed with, help the poverty stricken, end discrimination, and end violent crime with firearms. I can confidently state that the methods I would support to combat such things are wildly different than yours! I do not support ending marginalization through Affirmative Action (and other adjacent programs), DEI, and CRT like you support. I do not support the government regulating the American economy through agencies like the EPA and with ridiculous zero emission regulations. I do not support attempting to alleviate poverty with government handouts and jobs that continue to keep people poor and reliant on the nanny-state. I do not support combating firearm violence with gun control in any way, shape, or form.

          To then go on and say that I am Pharisaical for holding such convictions, when I have come to them by researching the fruit of the proposed solutions, is a wild conclusion. Honestly, man, I don’t understand the labels you assign to people here. They are baseless. Not once have I stated anything that would categorize me as a Luke 18:9-14 Pharisee… I am not making a claim that my particular “isms” are “omniscient”, but I do firmly believe I would rather live in a politically conservative, Christian Nationalist state than a politically progressive, secular state.

          Curt, you come to these comments to make arguments out of thin air that are not addressed in the above articles, just to make a point for yourself. I think we all agree the term pro-life is not the best descriptor of the anti-abortion platform, but it is the political rhetoric we’re working with in this case. You and I both know “pro-life” in this article, any other article in the past/future, and in any other context is meant to talk about the abortion issue. You are being intentionally obtuse by attempting to assign other political positions and issues to the label simply because of association with the word “life.”

          1. Lumping everything into the definition of pro-life until it’s so watered won it has no meaning and is impossible to attain is a tired leftist trope. The bottom line is whether or not the killing of the unborn is morally permissible and, if so, if it should be legally permissible. Everything else is a (often deliberately intended) distraction from that question.

          2. Andrew,
            If you think that you have escaped tribalism because one’s political views are based on religion or that you have shared concerns with progressives but have different approaches, you have not understood what I mean by tribalism.

            The tribalism label has to do with loyalty infringing on one’s ability to be fair and objective. For example, when loyalty to conservative ideology refuses to recognize the individual virtues in liberal and leftist ideologies because they run counter to conservative ideology one is being tribal. And the same can be said about those who have the same kind of loyalty to either liberal or leftist ideologies. A good measure for tribalism is when, because of loyalty to one’s ideology, one’s name can replace the word ‘Western‘ alone:

            The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just

            So are you saying that because one’s conservative ideology is based on their religious views, one has nothing to learn from liberals or from leftists about anything? If your answer is ‘yes,’ then the tribal label sticks to you just as it would stick to me if I believed that leftists have nothing to learn from liberals or conservatives? And aren’t also you proving that point when you imply that you have nothing positive to learn from Affirmative Action, DEI, or CRT? Aren’t you saying that your conservative approach has a monopoly on truth in these matters?

            What I have said is not baseless if you believe you have nothing to learn from liberals or leftists. And such an attitude is displayed by the prayer of the Pharisee from that parable. And so in the above article, focusing on the pro-life approaches of conservatives while ignoring one’s own inconsistencies in being pro-life and ignoring the pro-life approaches of liberals and leftists is the same attitude that the Pharisee from that parable had of his own righteousness and the sin of others.

            There is one more point to make. Remember that during Jim Crow, many Southern fellow believers in Christ based their practices of segregation and discrimination on how they interpreted the Scriptures. They were wrong. And you and I can be wrong too especially when we believe that a given ideology is omniscient and thus we do not need to listen to other ideologies.

          3. Gordon,
            Ignoring issues that prematurely end life on a significant scale is not consistent with being pro-life. We are talking about how we should respond to causes that prematurely and unnecessarily end human life. We are not talking about various pro-life ideologies.

          4. No Curt, you are talking about issues that prematurely end life. I’m talking about abortion, the intentional killing of unborn human persons. That’s what was being addressed in the article and you came along like you always do and attempted to muddy the waters with your expanded definition of pro-life. That attempt and others like it is what I addressed in my comment.

          5. Gordon,
            So what you are saying is that pro-life should only be concerned with stopping the committing of first degree murder. And so negligent homicide, for example, is not homicide because it isn’t 1st degree murder. But doesn’t our justice system label both as homicides?

            How is that everything that causes the preventable premature taking of life not considered pro-life issues?

    2. Thank you. I’m sure you’ll get mostly derision for your opinion at this site, but you are correct that ‘pro-life’ needs to include a lot more that laws punishing women.

    1. Yes, but surely Jesus didn’t mean that there should be no legal consequences for any and every kind of criminal act?

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