Donald Trump stumbled badly in his interview with Chris Matthews this week, suggesting that women who procure abortions should be punished for doing so. Trump met his match in Matthews, the one interviewer who is sufficiently willing to interrupt his interviewee when he smells blood, refusing to let them off the hook, forcing them to answer the question. This worked especially well with Trump who seems to think there is shame in saying “I am not sure” or “I need to think about that some more.”
I almost felt sorry for The Donald. I am sure that switching careers from successful New York businessman to Republican presidential candidate has entailed many changes for the man, but perhaps none more than on an issue like abortion. All, or almost all, of the people with whom he interacted in his business career or in his social circle were, I suspect, unthinkingly, reflexively pro-choice. Trump does not often do the small retail political events, like visits to coffee shops, that other candidates undertake, preferring the large, Il Duce-style rallies where he is the center of adulation, so he may not understand how deeply opposed to abortion the GOP base is. But, even in conversations with campaign staff, it must be a weltanschauung shift: Few people with campaign experience in the GOP are pro-choice.
So, when Matthews asked him the question, you could see his mind turning over the possibilities of how to respond and, for someone who obviously had never, ever thought about it before, he reached the not unreasonable conclusion that if a crime had been committed, those involved should face a punishment. Why did he think that? I will grant: Trying to figure out why Trump thinks anything may be a fool’s errand. But, in this case, there is a plausible reason he reached the conclusion that he could suggest women face some form of punishment for procuring an abortion: The pro-life movement has failed to present itself as a decidedly, undeniably, pro-women movement.
A few weeks back, I linked to an article at Millennial by Robert Christian in which he explained what the “whole life” movement is. As I noted at the time, it was an important article that raised vital questions for the pro-life movement. In that article, Christian wrote:
At its core, the whole life movement is dedicated to protecting the life and dignity of all people. It is rooted in a belief in the innate dignity and worth of every single human being. Each human being is a person with innate and equal value, and human life is sacred. From these premises comes the belief that it is never permissible to intentionally and directly take an innocent life. But the wanton disregard for life present in unjust social structures and the dehumanization of others in ways short of direct killing are also incompatible with the whole life commitment to human life and dignity. Indirect threats to life, such as the absence of access to healthcare or food, are also fundamentally incompatible with the vision of government and society the whole life movement aims to achieve: the common good. Protecting the life of all people is intimately connected to creating conditions that reflect the dignity of every single person, conditions that allow each person to reach their full potential.
The whole life movement is not a rival of the pro-life movement. Instead, it seeks to purify the pro-life movement of its inconsistencies. A pro-life movement that ignores infant mortality rates, starvation, or the degradation of the environment simply does not deserve the label ‘pro-life.’ It becomes a mere euphemism for supporting laws that restrict access to abortion. It becomes detached from the understanding of human dignity and worth that should animate the movement. Only a whole life approach can make the pro-life movement authentically pro-life.
Christian is spot-on when he notes the need to “purify” the inconsistencies of the pro-life movement. This was on display in the debate over the Affordable Care Act. Because of the pro-life movement’s unhealthy alliance with the Republican Party, many pro-life leaders opposed the ACA because they thought it might, under certain circumstances, provide federal funding of elective abortion. They may have been correct to raise that concern, and in any case they were free to raise it, but why did they fail to praise the inclusion of many provisions of the Pregnant Women Support Act into the final version of the ACA? The answer to that question had to do with partisan politics, not with the integrity of the pro-life cause.
In the wake of Trump’s comment, it was good to see pro-life leaders scream foul, but where have they been when the GOP majority calls for gutting those social programs that help the poor, and specifically poor women, who might see abortion as an unavoidable option given the relative costs of an abortion versus the cost of a pregnancy? If abortion really is the great evil of our time, and I believe it makes the top five to be sure, shouldn’t we expect pro-life leaders to insist that those candidates they support be willing to spend money to confront poverty, which is the leading abortifacient in this country?
The pro-life movement needs to disentangle itself from the GOP. No longer should a state chapter of the National Right-to-Life Committee fail to endorse a pro-life Democrat incumbent because that person is a Democrat, as happened a few years back in Indiana. There will never be a better solution to the issue of abortion than the bad one we have now until there is a significant pro-life wing of the Democratic Party.
And, the pro-life movement needs to aggressively seek ways to demonstrate its commitment to women and to children once they have been born. If we expect women to bear children, we should reasonably be expected to support better childcare options. If we expect women to bear children, we had better support equal pay for women. And, if we love children before they are born, we had better be committed to them after they are born, and no matter where they are born: Immigrant children, born and pre-born, should warrant our concern too.
This is an important time for the pro-life movement to be smart. The organized, official pro-choice groups are increasingly deranged. They argue that abortion is a positive good. An official at NARAL tweeted during the Super Bowl that a Doritos ad was offensive because it humanized the fetus portrayed in the ad. Huh? This is kookie stuff. But, if we are to take advantage of such kookiness, we in the pro-life movement need to be as un-kookie as possible, and not just un-kookie, but less inconsistent, less partisan, smarter. Robert Christian pointed the way in the article cited above. All of us who count ourselves as members of the pro-life movement need to do our part.