Published September 19, 2023
Former President Donald Trump has broken his deal with pro-lifers. The bargain was that pro-lifers would provide Trump political support in exchange for Trump giving the pro-life movement political wins. And it paid off. Trump got to be president, and pro-lifers got originalist Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade.
Now as Trump seeks the Republican nomination for a third time, he is making it clear that the alliance is over. Pressed on abortion in a recent interview, Trump blasted his rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for signing a law banning abortions after the baby has a detectable heartbeat. Trump declared, “I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”
Trump is being honest. There is no reason to doubt that he said what he really believes: that restricting abortion to any meaningful extent is a terrible mistake and that he has no will to fight to protect human life in the womb. Before denouncing DeSantis (and, implicitly, every other Republican governor and state legislator who has protected babies from being killed in the womb, along with the voters who supported them), Trump insisted he would be able to cut a deal with Democrats to bring “peace” on this issue. However, in promising this peace he refused to commit to even a 15-week limit on abortion.
Trump wants the issue to go away, along with the pro-life voters who refuse to stop standing up for the innocent lives ended by abortion. Trump’s disdain for the pro-life cause is no surprise. Trump was very pro-abortion until he ran for the Republican nomination, and his conversion to the cause was always obviously one of convenience. It is not surprising that he views significant restrictions on abortion as a mistake, and that he and his allies have denigrated pro-life laws as a waste of political capital. Indeed, Trump and his loyal supporters have been acting like the worst of the old Republican establishment that they love to denounce — treating pro-lifers as suckers to string along for votes, rather than as a constituency to be rewarded in victory.
Trump Just Wants a Deal
Now he no longer makes any pretense of caring for the pro-life cause; Trump thinks we should take the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization win and go home satisfied. But for pro-lifers, the goal of ending Roe was to be able to start winning political victories without having them negated by the federal courts enforcing an invented constitutional right to abortion. We have had wins and losses since the Dobbs decision overturned Roe, but it is a genuine political fight in which we have secured real victories for life and have hope for more in the future.
Trump wants to abandon that fight in pursuit of some illusory deal that will bring peace on the issue. But Democrats will not accept anything short of total victory, and Trump has shown that he’ll happily give it to them if it allows him to pretend to have struck a great deal.
Genuine pro-lifers likewise will not weary and will not rest until we win. Of course, we know we have to accept some compromises in the interim, working to achieve the best we can get now, saving as many lives as currently possible while we work to create the political conditions in which more lives may be protected. What we must not accept — and never will accept — is a “peace” in which children in the womb are legally murdered in perpetuity.
Trump did not need to be personally pro-life in order to form a political alliance with pro-lifers. But that alliance cannot survive his public announcement that our wins since Dobbs are “terrible.” It is clear that Trump would have no further use for us if he were elected to a second term.
Pro-Lifers Cannot Trust Trump
Therefore, pro-lifers cannot trust Trump. We cannot trust that he would appoint good judges again, given that his commitment to doing so was purely political — and the political motivation for doing so would disappear as soon as he won. If Trump wins he will never run for anything ever again, so the leverage to get him to do anything he doesn’t want to do disappears.
We could not trust Trump to sign any pro-life laws, given that he is currently denouncing those passed by Republican-led states. We could not trust him to direct his administration to enact pro-life policies, or to roll back the many pro-abortion policies put in place by President Joe Biden. We certainly could not trust him to use his position as president to make the case for life and against abortion.
Trump has decided that pro-life policies are political liabilities but is betting that pro-life voters will stick with him even as he publicly denounces their goals as “terrible.” His offer in return for our continued support is — nothing. And he thinks we’ll take it. We will see if the pro-life movement has enough backbone left to prove him wrong, and if other conservatives are wise enough to learn the lesson before Trump’s capricious treachery comes for their priorities.
Nathanael Blake, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has included work on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre, Russell Kirk and J.R.R. Tolkien. He is currently working on a study of Kierkegaard and labor. As a cultural observer and commentator, he is also fascinated at how our secularizing culture develops substitutes for the loss of religious symbols, meaning and order.