On Nov. 8, Americans will elect the 45th president of the United States, choosing between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. Karen Cross, political director of the National Right to Life Committee, has described the stakes for life issues in this election: after eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency which saw two pro-abortion justices appointed to the Supreme Court, a healthcare law that expanded abortion, and threats of a presidential veto against bills that would limit or defund abortion, “we cannot afford four – let alone eight – more years of a president that does not value the right to life.” Cross said, “Hillary Clinton supports unlimited abortion, and she wants to force Americans to pay for it.” Clinton has also vowed to only appoint judges that support Roe v. Wade.
The problem for pro-life voters is that Trump’s record is, to put it charitable, mixed or confusing, or worse, opportunistic.
In October 1999, Trump told Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the Press, “I’m totally pro-choice,” despite qualms he had with the procedure. “I hate the concept of abortion … I just believe in choice.” That same year, he co-sponsored a dinner honoring Robin Chandler Duke, then-president emeritus of the National Abortion Rights Action League. In 2000, as the presidential candidate for the Reform Party, he declared, “I support a woman’s right to choose,” including partial-birth abortion. But in his book The America We Deserve, released the same year, he said he supported banning the procedure.
But in 2012 when Trump first floated the idea of running for the Republican presidential nomination, he began to describe himself as pro-life, and continues to do so in this election cycle. He says he changed his mind after the birth of his grandchildren. Yet, he has had missteps winning pro-life votes. He praised Planned Parenthood at a March 1 press conference saying it “has done very good work for many, many — for millions of women,” while saying he would not fund Planned Parenthood “as long as you have the abortion going on.” Yet six months earlier he questioned Congressional Republicans who were insisting on abortion defunding as part of their budget negotiations with the Barack Obama White House.
In April, Trump said that women who had abortions should be criminally charged and punished, although he did not say how. When even pro-life activists criticized him for the comments, he backtracked and said only doctors who commit illegal abortions should be punished. But he also said told Face the Nation’s John Dickerson that “right now the laws are set … and I think we have to leave it that way.” That suggests Trump has no interest in signing or promoting pro-life laws.
In June, Trump said he would appoint only pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. There is currently an opening on the Supreme Court after Senate Republicans refused hearings for Obama’s appointed replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia who passed away in February.
Trump has also committed to signing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act into law if passed by Congress, which will protect unborn children who can feel pain, effectively ending late-term abortions.
Following a June meeting with pro-life leaders including former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, former head of the Christian Coalition Ralph Reed, evangelist Franklin Graham, and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Trump was endorsed by many in attendance. Marjorie Danenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life political action committee, said many were impressed by his journey to the pro-life position and that Trump “came across very well as a messenger for everybody in the room.” But not quite everybody. Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said “we know he’s definitely better than Clinton” on abortion, “but are we going to work for a candidate” who made sexist comments and seems all over the map on life issues.
Trump selected Indiana Governor Mike Pence, an evangelical former six-term Congressman, as his running mate. As governor, he signed four pro-life bills into law and as a member of the House of Representatives co-sponsored or authored 28 pro-life laws including limits on embryonic stem cell research and the 2009 Pence amendment defunding abortion (which did not pass).
Clinton chose Senator Tim Kaine, a Catholic and former Virginia governor, as her running mate. Kaine has a 100 per cent pro-abortion voting record according to both Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. He was a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, a Senate bill that would invalidate every state pro-life law in the country. As governor he indicated he opposed taxpayer funding of abortion, but when Clinton announced Kaine as the Democrat vice presidential nominee, he said he fully accepted her pro-abortion funding position.
The Republican Party platform calls for only pro-life judges to be appointed to the Supreme Court, asserts the sanctity of human life, and opposes taxpayer funding of abortion. The Democratic platform commits the presidential candidate to appoint judges “who defend … a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion.” For the first time in the party’s history, it also calls for overturning the Hyde Amendment, the 1976 law that outlaws federal funds for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother.
Platforms, however, can be ignored. Last month, Trump said on the Dr. Oz Show that he thought women should be able to access contraception without a doctor’s prescription, in contravention of the official Republican position that opposes the Federal Drug Administration’s call for over-the-counter birth control pills.
Also in June, Trump told his audience of Christian conservatives he would end the ban on tax-exempt groups, including churches, from politicking, that has been in place since the Lyndon Johnson administration in the 1960s. Trump said religious liberty “the number one question” in America. He said religious liberty should mean they could “go and speak openly” including in the political arena.
Clinton supports same-sex “marriage” and special rights to transgender individuals. Trump has made gay-friendly statements, but again its not so straightforward. He opposed the Supreme Court’s ruling permitting same-sex “marriage” but opposes a constitutional amendment upholding the traditional definition of marriage.
Pro-life groups are unanimous in their opposition to Clinton. Most but not all support Trump with various degrees of enthusiasm. The question for many is whether Trump is pro-life enough or can be trusted to maintain his newfound pro-life convictions.