Dialogue w Never-Trumper: Is Trump Really Pro-Life?

Dialogue w Never-Trumper: Is Trump Really Pro-Life? February 9, 2020

This is an exchange with Scott Eric Alt on his Facebook page, from 24 January 2017. His words will be in blue.

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Prediction about Trump and SCOTUS. This is just a prediction; I am not infallible.

There is an open seat on the Court: it is early in Trump’s administration. He will choose a nominee very much in the mold of Justice Scalia–red meat for the base. The balance on the Court will remain exactly as before; conservative Christians will say, “See I told you so,” wave banners, trumpet it in the streets, and claim strong vindication.

Then, when people like Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Breyer retire, Trump will name justices in the mold of Earl Warren (a Republican nominee), David Souter (a Republican nominee), or Harry Blackmun (a Republican nominee and the author of Roe v Wade). The balance on the Court will remain exactly as before; come 2021 or, God help us, 2025, Roe and Obergefell will remain.

You heard it here first.

What would it take to convince you that Trump really is anti-abortion and/or pro-life, Scott?

Let’s see if he makes it a major theme of his administration, on the level of Obamacare being a major objective of the last one.

Okay; what would prove that it is a “major theme”?

Some words about it in his inaugural address might have been evidence.

Sure; but that didn’t happen, so what would prove (in the future) that it is a “major theme”?

Obama mentioned health care as an objective several times in his 2008 inaugural. Trump mentioned abortion or other pro-life issues 0 times.

Trump strongly stood against partial-birth infanticide in the third debate, with many millions watching. He also mentioned it prominently at that annual dinner in New York with Cardinal Dolan, which took tremendous guts in that New York liberal audience.

Now I ask for the third time: what would it take to convince you that it is a “major theme” of his (since you made that a condition, which is secondary to my main question) and that he is pro-life? Or can nothing at all do that?

As an example–if Trump were to give a televised address to the nation on the evil of abortion and steps his administration is taking to end it. Or if he were to talk about it at more than “in passing” length in a SOTU address and talked about it as an important objective of the next four years. And then he’d have to follow through on the steps he had laid out.

Virtually no Republican Presidents have ever done that (possibly excepting Reagan): because of the extreme polarization of the issue in a political sense. Yet that didn’t cause you to question whether they were pro-life, or to not vote for them, right?

George W. Bush didn’t discover pro-life in 2000.

That wasn’t my point. He never made it a major issue of his campaign or presidency, to my knowledge (I saw him talk in person in 2004). So why do you make that particular demand of Trump in order to accept him as pro-life? Why is the bar set so much higher? You didn’t question (as far as I know) the pro-life bona fides of these other GOP Presidents. And we know that Reagan and Bush I changed their views.

I’m just trying to understand the chain of reasoning of a Never-Trumper: especially on this issue.

Do you care if Trump actually does anything pro-life? Or only that it can be said he is pro-life? I am confused.

Of course I do. I’ve been a pro-life activist for 35 years, and it has always been the #1 issue whenever I vote.

So you answered regarding what would make you change your mind. Then I went on to a second point about your standard being much higher for him than for previous GOP Presidents (see my previous comment). Now I’m trying to understand that.

Why do I have to ask things 2-3 times to get an answer out of you?

If you go back to my original question, I asked: “What would it take to convince you that Trump really is anti-abortion and/or pro-life?” You deny that he is pro-life, as shown in your cynical take regarding the Mexico City Policy and what he will supposedly do in future Court appointees.

I’m trying to understand the basis of such strong cynicism and what would change your mind. I suppose we could distinguish between someone being pro-life and what they do about it as a President. Mostly in the past presidents have expressed pro-life convictions through Supreme Court appointees. There isn’t a whole lot they can do except express approval of congressional and state restrictions, and to sign those bills that come to their desk. That would be another test for Trump.

So if he appoints a second strong pro-lifer to the SCOTUS, do you then give up your theory above and concede that he really is pro-life?

If it does matter to you that presidents actually do pro-life things, then isn’t the real question, “What would convince you Trump has done an important pro-life thing?” If I could be convinced Trump is pro-life, but he does nothing significant to stop abortion, then what’s the good, except a theoretical absence of harm (at least absence of harm on this point, not necessarily others).

I agree. You seem to deny both things: that he is pro-life, opinion-wise, and that he will do anything other than grant “red meat” to the base out of mere political expediency and not conviction.

Still awaiting answers to my second round of questions. To repeat them:

[Bush II] never made it a major issue of his campaign or Presidency, to my knowledge (I saw him talk in person in 2004). So why do you make that particular demand of Trump in order to accept him as pro-life? Why is the bar set so much higher? You didn’t question (as far as I know) the pro-life bona fides of these other GOP Presidents.

Trump has a higher standard because his pro-life credentials have not been established. Reagan’s and Bush’s had longer provenance. When Trump says what changed his mind was a kid who was going to be aborted but “turned out to be a superstar,” he was specifically asked “But what if the kid had not been a superstar?” Trump was stymied, saying, “Oh, then I guess not, but I haven’t thought about it.” That’s what Michael meant when he said Trump “sounded like a eugenicist” and that’s what led the SBA List, initially, to oppose Trump and say he was insufficiently pro-life. But when he became the nominee, suddenly SBA discovered “new evidence” just like that–shazaam!

Now maybe you could say Trump is evolving still because his conversion was recent, yada yada.

But when Trump has proven himself a liar on so many other points, the question does arise whether this supposed pro-life conversion is just a convenience in an election year because of the sentiments of the base.

Skepticism is certainly warranted in Trump’s case, and therefore the standard is higher. Trump could prove his pro-life sentiments, and that remains to be seen. But I am still skeptical.

Trump’s conversion on the issue was not, in fact, in the last year or two. In an April 2011, Trump stated that “I changed my view a number of years ago.” So that is some number of years before 2011. Trump continues in the interview:

Donald Trump: One thing about me, I’m a very honorable guy. I’m pro-life, . . . One of the reasons I changed — one of the primary reasons — a friend of mine’s wife was pregnant, in this case married.

She was pregnant and he didn’t really want the baby. And he was telling me the story. He was crying as he was telling me the story. He ends up having the baby and the baby is the apple of his eye. It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him.

And you know here’s a baby that wasn’t going to be let into life. And I heard this, and some other stories, and I am pro-life.

David Brody: So those stories did change you, they came around and changed you?

Trump: They changed me. Yeah, they changed my view as to that, absolutely. (“Brody File Exclusive: Donald Trump Explains Pro-Life Conversion”: 4-8-11)

Again, in an October 2016 interview with Raymond Arroyo, Trump reiterated the same story:

Trump said a “number of moments” influenced his change of heart on the matter, but the biggest was a “magnificent person” he knows who was almost aborted.

He told Arroyo:

One was a couple that I know very, very well. And you had a strong pro-life and you had a strong pro-choice, and they argued over — the mother was pregnant — they argued over the child.

One — I won’t get into the specifics — but one wanted to abort and the other said we can’t do that, we’re not going to do that. Anyway, they had the baby — it was a long time ago — and the baby is such a magnificent person, who I know, a magnificent person. And the person that was actually pro-choice is now pro-life because of it, and it had an effect on me.

“The problem with Trump’s change of heart on abortion” (Washington Post, Trevin Wax, 1-26-16)

From the article:

Consider how he responded to a reporter who wondered if he would have become pro-life had the child been a “loser”: “Probably not, but I’ve never thought of it. I would say no, but in this case it was an easy one because he’s such an outstanding person.”

To summarize Trump’s view: “I’m pro-life because we shouldn’t abort fetuses that may grow up to be outstanding people.”

But opponents of abortion take a different position: “I’m pro-life because we shouldn’t kill innocent human beings, no matter who they might grow up to be.”

Thank you. It’s less than ideal, but it’s important to note that Trump was not saying that a child should be aborted if he or she isn’t “outstanding.” The question he was answering wasn’t that, but rather, about “if he would have become pro-life had the child been a “loser”.”

The question of what influenced him to become pro-life, which is largely emotional and “personal” is quite different from “should a non-outstanding child be aborted?”

Also, we know that his conversion took place “years” before 2011, and he is reporting his mindset at that time, not his view today, some 8-12 or so years later.

And that’s assuming this was an accurate report. It may very well have been. But in any event, the article provides no documentation. It merely states: “Consider how he responded to a reporter who wondered if he would have become pro-life had the child been a “loser”:”

We don’t know where that appeared, so we can’t see any context. Even the reporter’s question was not cited. So this could quite possibly be out-of-context.

Possible. My point is, skepticism is reasonable. It is reasonable not to take Trump’s words on faith.

He could be genuinely pro-life. But the only evidence I have seen is what Trump claims.

The reinstatement of the Mexico City policy is good–but it is also SOP, and has limited effect on actual abortions.

That’s fair. But then we’re back to “what does it take to convince you?” etc. We have one good act, and probably another soon with the SCOTUS pick. That’s not enough for you. So it’ll require signing some good pro-life bills, a second good Court pick (or more than that), I guess.

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[the following was added to the original dialogue on 2-9-20]

Planned Parenthood — unlike Scott Eric Alt — seems quite sure that President Trump is actively pro-life, in an article (no date given):

Making History In Condemning Abortion

Donald Trump is the first sitting president in U.S. history to directly address the annual March for Life anti-abortion rally. [NBC News video: 1-19-18] [Dave: that was via video. At this year’s March he was the first president to address the march in person] . . .

Calling for a Nationwide Abortion Ban

While on the campaign trail, Trump said abortion should be outlawed . . . It’s clear: The total and near-total bans passed by politicians in some states reflect Trump’s view on abortion. [link to People magazine, 5-20-19] . . .

Packing Courts With Anti-Abortion Judges

Before he was elected, Donald Trump said he would elect “pro-life” judges to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade — the case that recognized the right to access safe, legal abortion. No surprise: Trump’s Supreme Court appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, have long records of opposing abortion. Trump also has packed the federal courts across the country with judges who have track records of restricting reproductive rights.

Scott mentioned the State of the Union address. A Fox News article (2-3-20), noted his remarks in the 2019 address:

Trump’s comments on life in last year’s State of the Union, calling out Democratic Party leaders for their support of late-term abortion and even infanticide, were the most explicit made on the issue by any president in that address.

He did so again in this year’s address: noting a mother in the gallery whose daughter was born at 21 weeks, and again condemning late-term abortion. He said:

Our goal should be to ensure that every baby has the best chance to thrive and grow just like Ellie. That is why I am asking the Congress to provide an additional $50 million to fund neo-natal research for America’s youngest patients,” he said. “That is also why I am calling upon the members of Congress here tonight to pass legislation finally banning the late-term abortion of babies.

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Scott “replies” on 2-9-20 on Facebook (do you see a change of approach and ratcheting up of the hyper-polemics here?):

Bore/d/ing Dave recycles a Facebook exchange from 3 years ago.

Incidentally, I fail to see how anyone who merely says things about ending abortion, but who appoints justices who call Roe “settled law,” who separates migrant children from their parents and interns them in cages, who refunds Planned Parenthood, who brings back land mines, can be called “pro-life” in any meaningful sense. Trump’s contribution to the pro-life movement is to throw words at it while his hands are committing murder. (The last expression is a figure of speech, for the reading comprehension impaired.)

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See also the discussion of this article on my Facebook page.

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Related Reading:

On the Complaint that Pro-Lifers are “Single-Issue” [9-24-15]

On Trump & the “Supreme” Pro-Life Cause [8-16-16]

Dialogue with Deacon Steven Greydanus on Voting & Pro-Life [11-8-16]

“Trump Ain’t Really Pro-Life” [1-24-17]

“Lessen Evil” Votes for Hillary? [note: Mark Shea did not vote for Hillary, but he urged people in swing states to do so] (vs. Mark Shea) [4-7-17]

Debate: How Pro-Life is the Republican Party (Especially the Leadership)? [5-8-17]

Debate: SCOTUS & GOP in Relation to Abortion Rates [11-15-18]

Dialogue on Conservative vs. Liberal Pro-Life Voting [2-9-19]

Explaining the Pro-Life, Christian Vote for Trump Yet Again [4-30-19]

Dialogue: Christian Witness, Trump, & Prudential Voting (vs. Deacon Steven D. Greydanus) [5-10-19]

Abortion Declines Under Trump (Surprise, New Pro-Lifers!) [1-10-20]

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Photo credit: Charles Edward Miller (8-26-18): Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky Stop Brett Kavanaugh Rally Downtown Chicago Illinois [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]

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