The Future of the Pro-Life Movement

The Future of the Pro-Life Movement January 22, 2021

January 22nd is normally the date of the March for Life, the largest national demonstration against abortion. I quit going several years ago—if I wanted to sit through hours of political posturing to people who already agree with me … you know what, no, I can’t even imagine wanting that. (The march itself isn’t so bad, but the preamble is insufferable.) It was called off this year due to Covid. I’m glad they took the precaution.

I imagine it’ll be back on next year, once everybody, or at least most people, have had the vaccine. But I have to wonder what it’ll be like in a post-Trump world.

Where We’ve Been

The GOP has been playing the pro-life movement for idiots for decades now. In no administration has this been more blatant than in Trump’s. As far as I can tell, literally all of his pro-life legislation was already in place from previous presidencies. Meanwhile, the lives of ICE detainees from the border were a horror. ICE caged people like animals and ignored their illnesses; women had their wombs removed for no clear reason; thousands of children, arriving in the country without parents, were promptly expelled to Mexico.

Not that the Democrats are anything to write home about, even on immigration, let alone abortion. But the sheer scale of the Trump White House’s contempt for human life, from cradle to grave, is like little I’ve ever seen.

Of course, we should expect corruption and cruelty from the civil power—St. Augustine accorded it a status little higher than the mafia. What’s far worse is, this last administration had most US Catholic bishops positively licking its shoes. They breathed scarcely a word of criticism against any of these outrageous human rights abuses. When AG Barr ordered the resumption of federal executions, in direct defiance of Pope Francis’ declaration about the death penalty, the USCCB didn’t make a peep.1 Nor did they object to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast giving Barr the “Faithful Christian Laity” award shortly thereafter! Cardinal Dolan of New York, one of the most prominent clergy in the country, is noteworthy here—though he’d already disgraced himself with antics like thanking Bill Donohue for a press release calling SNAP a “phony victims’ group.” Or moving diocesan money around to keep sexual abuse victims from getting to it, and then publicly denying he’d done so.

The political pro-life movement has become a festering satire of itself. I don’t know how, or whether, it can recover from its alliance with Trump.

Where We Are

The Biden White House is going to be a challenge. Like most Democratic statesmen, he’s very pro-choice, and I’m sorry to say I doubt Cardinal Gregory is going to challenge him publicly on this issue. There are pastoral issues at stake here, obviously; but the president’s pastor is, necessarily, a great deal more than the president’s pastor. Dealing with a private individual who struggles with orthodoxy allows for a flexibility that I don’t think is appropriate in dealing with a public figure who openly opposes it.

Still. We’ll see what happens. For instance, we’ll see whether Biden does at least mitigate the evils that reached such a horrible height under Trump. In the meantime, I think it’s of the utmost importance that the sincere pro-life movement (or what’s left of it) not fall back into the false and cartoonish “Republicans good, Democrats bad” logic that led us by the nose for so long.

Where We’re Going

Hard to say. But the pro-life movement needs to change, if it wants to recover from Trump.

It urgently needs to separate itself from the political right. Not because it needs to align with the Left (though I personally would be fine with that), but because the Right has become overwhelmingly toxic. A lot of people, including some leftists, think you can’t be pro-life and left-wing. I disagree, and I’m not alone. Left-wing pro-life activism does exist; Rehumanize International is a great example. Still, it bears saying, the point is really not to exchange one master for another.

And there’s still room here for both single-issue voting and prudential calculus. If you’re going to be a single-issue voter, really be one: refuse to support any candidate who, e.g., doesn’t make their primary policy goal defunding Planned Parenthood, and if they don’t deliver, withdraw your support completely and immediately. And if you’re going to make a prudential compromise, be smart about it: try and see which candidate will, in practice, actually protect lives, not which one will make the most noise about them.


1Individual bishops did, yes: Archbishop Coakley of Oklahoma City, Bishop Flores of Brownsville, and Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City all called on the White House to desist, multiple times. The USCCB as such apparently couldn’t be bothered.

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