After Governor Mike Pence’s clear defense of the sanctity of life in the vice presidential debate, I figured it would be timely to publish this (updated) article I wrote months ago explaining Donald Trump’s views on this subject.
What are we to make of somebody who less than twenty years ago said that he was adamantly pro-choice?
I think it’s completely believable that for a long while Trump never gave abortion much thought beyond the status quo. Trump is from New York City (where social values aren’t very solid or popular to challenge), and from a generation where even the word “pregnant” was considered too vulgar for public discussion, where the average man had as little to do with the knowledge of pregnancy and childbirth as possible, and where abortion was beyond taboo.
It’s obvious that Trump’s conscience has never been at peace with the pro-choice position, as is indicated in a Fox News Sunday interview he did with Tony Snow in 1999:
I’m totally pro-choice. I hate it and I hate saying it. And I’m almost ashamed to say that I’m pro-choice but I am pro-choice because I think we have no choice. And as far as partial-term, late- term, any term I’m totally against that. A woman is going to have to make a decision. If that decision is made, it has to be made early. After that, I’m totally become very conservative on the issue.
Sixteen years ago, Trump’s mind began to churn on the subject of abortion. In his book The America We Deserve, published in 2000, Trump wrote:
There are some issues I don’t want to say much about. I support a woman’s right to choose, for example, but I am uncomfortable with the procedures. When Tim Russert asked me on Meet the Press if I would ban partial-birth abortion if I were president, my pro-choice instincts led me to say no. After the show, I consulted two doctors I respect and, upon learning more about this procedure, I have concluded that I would indeed support a ban.
Trump is evidently an executive through and through, who seeks the best counsel and research he can find before settling on a decision. This is evidence that Trump will readily take counsel in such experts as Dr. Anthony Levatino on the issue of abortion if he is elected president. Regardless of what exterior campaign showmanship may look like on a candidate, an underlying humility to heed counsel is among the most important presidential traits.
Sometime since he wrote the aforementioned passage, Trump witnessed a couple he knows decide against aborting their child, which resulted in a wonderful person being brought into the world. Trump was won over to the pro-life cause by that and other stories, albeit continuing to recognize in governance the traditional legalese exceptions we see commonly expressed by pro-life officials, usually when they are new to the pro-life issue or reside in a liberal state.
Some doubt that Trump’s conversion is genuine because he was provoked to reconsider his position after seeing that the world almost lost a “superstar” due to abortion, and maybe wouldn’t have thought otherwise if the child had turned out to somehow be mediocre or disabled by the world’s standards. Besides the fact that wasn’t the only story that impacted Trump, such is an arguably unfair assessment, because the same could be said of anybody who hadn’t reconsidered the pro-choice position until after witnessing, for instance, the success of Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. God doesn’t always use the miraculous to inspire a person, but historically He has used that method frequently.
It might surprise many to learn that The Donald actually has a soft spot for the disabled least of these, a far cry from considering their lives worthless. Watch the following video to see what he did for a little girl with brittle bone disease, whom he described with one of his favorite adjectives – beautiful – “inside and out”:
More recently, we have heard a terminally ill beauty queen credit Trump with saving her “in so many ways,” saving her Mexican-American son’s college education, and doing many charitable things in private that never make the news. “He is the kindest man I have ever met,” Melissa Young, Miss Wisconsin USA 2005, told Varney & Co. “I think he has a heart of gold…he does so many things that he does not talk about…he doesn’t toot his own horn when it comes to a lot of things.” This lesser-known compassionate side of Trump reads like an answer to those who think pro-lifers don’t care about life once it is outside the womb.
Trump is also, of course, a results and data-driven thinker. Trump wrote an op-ed in January about the need to build a culture of life, and discussed the toll Roe v. Wade has on America:
I build things. There is a process involved in building things. We tap into a lot of disciplines with engineering being one of the most important. The rules for putting structures together are as strict as are the rules of physics. These rules have stood the test of time and have become the path to putting together structures that endure and are beautiful. America, when it is at its best, follows a set of rules that have worked since our Founding. One of those rules is that we, as Americans, revere life and have done so since our Founders made it the first, and most important, of our ‘unalienable’ rights.
Over time, our culture of life in this country has started sliding toward a culture of death. Perhaps the most significant piece of evidence to support this assertion is that since Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court 43 years ago, over 50 million Americans never had the chance to enjoy the opportunities offered by this country. They never had the chance to become doctors, musicians, farmers, teachers, husbands, fathers, sons or daughters. They never had the chance to enrich the culture of this nation or to bring their skills, lives, loves or passions into the fabric of this country. They are missing, and they are missed.
Is Trump lying to us about his pro-life conversion? Consider the logic the Professor used concerning Lucy’s claim about finding Narnia in the Wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe. If Lucy were pretending, she would have more carefully crafted her statements to match up with expectations.
Likewise, if Trump were fraudulent in his pro-life confessions, he would try to be extra convincing and parrot everything we want and expect to hear, including repeated across the board condemnation of Planned Parenthood, instead of talking like someone whose eyes are adjusting after having a bright light shone on the subject.
There is evidence that Trump has grown and is still growing pro-life views the more he observes the inestimable value of human life, though it’s an awkward growing process. He’s certainly not the only male political candidate to bungle an abortion law hypothetical pitched by a news anchor.
Chris Matthews’ town hall question was loaded with presumptions about a national ban on abortion, not the realistic outcome of overturning Roe v. Wade or penalties for abortion in Anglo legal tradition. Trump didn’t address this, and instead emphasized the criminality of abortion in such a scenario, deducing that “there has to be some form of punishment” even for the woman under Matthews’ premise. Trump immediately released a statement afterward that said in reality, a woman is a victim of abortion along with her unborn child, and that the abortionists would be punished.
In an April 1st, 2016 CBS interview, Trump said that he does not disagree with the proposition that abortion is murder. “The laws are set now, on abortion, and that’s the way they’re going to remain until they’re changed,” Trump explained. “I think it would have been better if it were up to the states,” he noted, referring to the status pre-Roe.
Rather than being “O.K. with abortion” as some outlets have interpreted Trump’s answers, I think what we are seeing is Trump being aware that the chief executive cannot singlehandedly reverse a Supreme Court decision. Constitutionally, the U.S. president has a very limited role in the legalization of various social issues, but the ability to heed counsel and data is an important factor in doing them justice.
Trump favors defunding Planned Parenthood and downsizing our federal bureaucracy (including a repeal of Obamacare), intends to repeal Barack Obama’s executive orders, and has been very straightforward about constitutionalist Supreme Court appointments by being so transparent as to release a list of prospective nominees. Trump-Pence at the very least makes for an administration that respects federalism and is willing to seek counsel on protecting human life, while Clinton-Kaine guarantees a pro-abortion rights, pro-central government expansion White House.
Photo of Trump greeting a baby at a rally in Mobile, AL is by Mark Wallheiser of Getty Images.