Does it matter if Trump really thinks abortion is evil?

Does it matter if Trump really thinks abortion is evil? January 27, 2017

Today’s annual March for Life brings hundreds of thousands of anti-abortion protesters to the streets of Washington. After eight years of Obama, we are adjusting to the optics of the White House (and, by extension, the Executive Branch) expressing support for ending legal abortion.

Pro-life activists have no choice but to welcome and applaud the President’s strong support. But Trump is, by his own admission, a fairly recent convert to the crusade to eliminate abortion rights. He credits his own pro-life conversion to knowing someone who was almost aborted but turned into a “magnificent person.” This line of reasoning did not reassure many pro-life advocates. He famously struggled to speak coherently about the issue during the campaign. (“There has to be some form of punishment.” Planned Parenthood has done very good work for millions of women.) And even his most ardent socially conservative disciples have to bristle at his view of women: As a “star,” he can “grab ’em by the pussy.”

Is Trump a true believer? How much does it really matter?

It really doesn’t matter. It will be hard to top Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s soaring pro-life rhetoric, but Trump may be the most anti-abortion president in history. Already, Trump openly embraced a pro-life litmus test for Supreme Court nominees. In the past, even Republican presidents have resisted overt litmus-testing, preferring instead to reassure pro-lifers using code language about wanting judges who will “faithfully interpret the Constitution,” not “legislate from the bench.”

President Trump seems willing to give pro-life activists just about everything they want, or at least everything he can possibly give them. Given Republican majorities in Congress and most state legislatures, continued public support for various kinds of abortion restrictions, durable scientific facts about pre-natal human life, and an energized, organized activist movement, Donald J. Trump will probably be remembered as the most pro-life president in our lifetimes.

But regardless of Trump’s appointments, decisions, or policy preferences, the abortion rate will likely continue to inch down as it did under Obama, who pro-lifers derided as the most radically pro-abortion president we’ve ever had. In fact, Obama came into the White House hoping to make common cause with diverse leaders interested in reducing the incidence of abortion. He was steamrollered.

The strength and sincerity of presidents’ personal views on abortion matter little. Politics matter a lot. Trump enjoys political support from people who think abortion is evil, our greatest national sin. He pays no price for upsetting pro-choice Americans. Trump’s incentives are clear, and he will do what is politically advantageous for him, as all partisan presidents almost always do, regardless of the fact that he probably has not thought deeply about the issue and may not personally believe that criminalizing abortion is the nation’s most important public-policy priority.

Trump may be an unlikely hero, but Americans who wish to criminalize abortion will have no choice but to cheer his leadership on the issue.

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