The pro-life movement has Donald Trump under a microscope—they helped elect him, so he had better implement the promises he made to them. This is a pattern in the relationship between the pro-life movement and Republican politics, with the inevitable let down at some point in a Republican president’s term. Trump, however, is said to be different—leading the “most pro-life administration ever.” It is a “new dawn for life” in America, as counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway said at the recent March for Life in Washington.
So far, most of the coverage of Trump’s presidency on pro-life news sites can be characterized as “cautious praise.” The microscope of the pro-life movement may need some focusing, however. When one looks at Trump’s position on protecting the lives of the unborn, there is a dire need for criticism.
Pro-life with Exceptions
Jim Sable from the pro-life organization Save The 1 was a lone voice crying in the wilderness when he wrote a recent article titled, “Any pro-life gains under Trump will be tainted if we abandon babies conceived in rape.” Sable writes:
In this new and fully Republican-controlled legislative session, the 115th Congress, there are currently seven pro-life related bills which have been introduced. There are an infamous five of them which Save The 1 would like to call to your attention and voice a strenuous objection to, as currently written. Why object to a pro-life bill? All 5 contain a rape exception…
…So, once again, lawmakers, those organizations which endorse them, and pro-life leaders and organizations which approve of and recommend public support of these laws, feel as though they have the right to negotiate away the right to life of the rape and incest conceived. Repeatedly, the pro-life leadership in Washington allows the politicians to define what it means to be pro-life…
…There have been promises for decades, claiming that the exceptions strategy will change, and that compromised, exceptions-laden laws will be “fixed”. As we see in these bills, we are nowhere near the fulfillment of those promises. When will these master strategists finally know that it is time to end the rape exception era in Washington? What, specifically, has to happen? Strange, because contained within that oft-repeated promise is a realization — an actual admission — that something is wrong. You don’t have to fix something which is not broken. So, they are actually confessing that the “exceptions” strategy is a broken strategy…
Trump has repeatedly said that he is “pro-life with exceptions.” Those exceptions are “rape, incest, and if the mother is going to die…” Trump also said the three exceptions he has are “pretty much the standard three exceptions that many Republicans have.”
“Pro-life,” however, means protecting all human life from conception to death: “Exceptions break the rules as set by God; exceptions kill people. They are unacceptable under any circumstance” (American Life League website).
If this is a “new dawn for life” in America, isn’t it time to address the moral quandary that is the exceptions strategy? Shouldn’t political expediency be reserved, if used at all, for times when there is a pro-abortion government in power?
Sable’s article is well worth the read and is one of the few articles coming out of the pro-life movement in these early days of Trump’s presidency that is not full of praise for the new administration. Please read the full article here.
Overturning Roe v. Wade and States Rights
The interview Trump gave to 60 minutes after he was elected revealed Trump’s rather confused pro-life position, despite his readiness to claim, “I’m pro-life”:
Lesley Stahl: One of the things you’re going to obviously get an opportunity to do, is name someone to the Supreme Court. And I assume you’ll do that quickly?
Donald Trump: Yes. Very important.
Lesley Stahl: During the campaign, you said that you would appoint justices who were against abortion rights. Will you appoint– are you looking to appoint a justice who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade?
Donald Trump: So look, here’s what’s going to happen– I’m going to– I’m pro-life. The judges will be pro-life. They’ll be very—
Lesley Stahl: But what about overturning this law–
Donald Trump: Well, there are a couple of things. They’ll be pro-life, they’ll be– in terms of the whole gun situation, we know the Second Amendment and everybody’s talking about the Second Amendment and they’re trying to dice it up and change it, they’re going to be very pro-Second Amendment. But having to do with abortion if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the states. So it would go back to the states and–
Lesley Stahl: Yeah, but then some women won’t be able to get an abortion?
Donald Trump: No, it’ll go back to the states.
Lesley Stahl: By state—no some —
Donald Trump: Yeah.
Donald Trump: Yeah, well, they’ll perhaps have to go, they’ll have to go to another state.
Lesley Stahl: And that’s OK?
Donald Trump: Well, we’ll see what happens. It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand. That has a long, long way to go.
Note that Trump was not comfortable giving approval of a situation where women would not be able to get legal abortions in the U.S. In this interview, he does not seem to oppose abortion remaining legal in some states if Roe v. Wade is overturned—so that women will still have access to legal abortion somewhere in the U.S.
The “states rights” answer serves Trump well because he can appear to be a pro-life hero by appointing pro-life judges to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, yet he doesn’t have to be responsible for women not being able to get legal abortions in the U.S. because inevitably some, or many, states would still allow legal abortion (with various restrictions).
Further, handing the issue over to each individual state and ending up with some states allowing legal abortion and others not allowing it is hardly an acceptable state of affairs: killing babies is not okay in some states, but is okay in others?
Trump will likely live up to the promises he made to the pro-life movement on the campaign trail. They supported him and so, he will reward them. Unless he doesn’t. This is politics.
If this is indeed a “new dawn for life” in America, however, isn’t it time to look the beast of abortion squarely in the eye?
Or, perhaps there is another beast lurking in America that must be challenged?
The Problem of Religious Liberty vs. the Glory of Christ’s Kingship
Trump positions himself as a champion of religious liberty. At the recent national prayer breakfast Trump said: “So I want to express clearly today to the American people that my administration will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty in our land. America must forever remain a tolerant society where all faiths are respected…”
However, it is just this reigning spirit of pluralism and religious liberty that is the problem.
Christopher Dawson, in a 1960 lecture titled, “America and the Secularization of Modern Culture,” said:
…individual liberty…was the ruling principle which dominated every other consideration in the Declaration of Independence and the forming of the Constitution. It was with this principal in mind that they separated the executive and legislative powers and set the judiciary above them both. It was for this that they divided sovereignty itself between Federal and State governments. Everywhere they tried to reduce government to a minimum and to leave the individual American free to carry on his own life in his own way.”
It is the American idolization of “liberty” that is at the root of both Trump’s defense of religious liberty and a culture where legal abortion is acceptable. In America, all should be free to follow the dictates of their own conscience in matters of belief and lifestyle. Pro-abortion advocates are products of a culture that posits individual liberty as a supreme good and is tolerant of all manner of beliefs and values. Yet, pro-life advocates and defenders of religious freedom are followers of the same doctrine of individual liberty.
It is Trump’s adherence to the doctrine of individual liberty that makes him uncomfortable in ruling out the possibility of women having access to legal abortion anywhere in the U.S. He is tolerant—a product of American pluralism. It is also politically expedient since most Americans share his view—polls show that while Americans don’t want abortion to be funded by the government or without restrictions, they do want women to have access to legal abortion.
However, throwing the issue of abortion to individual states, or, to “the people,” is throwing more “liberty” at a problem that “liberty” itself created. It wasn’t activist judges who created the liberal culture of America that gave rise to the unbound individual, “free” to make choices each feels is best for herself. They may have abetted this culture, but they didn’t create it.
The pro-life movement, in case anyone thought otherwise, is not Catholic. It may have been started by Catholics but joining with Evangelicals and other religious groups and immersing itself in the American political process put an end to the movement being Catholic. It was a conscious decision on the part of movement leaders to distance themselves from Catholicism and make use of scientific arguments and implement the language of civil rights. Bottom line: to play politics in the modern democratic arena the pro-life movement had to move out of the parishes and get away from the priests.
The pro-life movement is exemplary of the American pluralist spirit. “You don’t believe in God, but you think abortion is wrong? Great, here’s a sign, join our march.” It is also important for the movement to draw large numbers in order to demonstrate that the majority of Americans are pro-life, because then, in the name of “democracy,” it follows that pro-life legislation should be put in place. The “people” don’t want abortion, the movement can claim. This is a tricky game, however, since “democracy” can easily be used against the pro-life movement, and polls do generally show that the majority of Americans want American women to have access to legal abortion. Yet, the belief that democracy is on the side of the Good and will somehow win the day in the end prevails in the pro-life movement.
By embracing pluralism and liberal democracy, and by distancing itself from its Catholic roots, the movement has grown in political strength and has become an inclusive, diverse movement.
Is there a problem with any of this? For Catholics in particular? Only if you take into account the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church:
…religious liberty fails to recognize the social kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ, the supernatural rights of His Church, and the supernatural end of man in the common good of the political order. It fails to consider that the false religions, by the mere fact that they keep souls from the Catholic Church, lead souls to hell. (SSPX District of Canada website)
The Catholic vision of the social order recognizes the Social Kingship of Christ, as Michael Davies explained in his essay, “The Reign of Christ the King”:
The fact that the kings of the earth—in other words, the nations and those who rule them—are subject to the Kingship of Christ pertains to what is known as His Social Kingship, that is, His right to rule over societies, as well as individuals.
Also in that essay, which is relevant to America, Davies quotes Pope Leo XIII from his encyclical Annum Sacrum: “The empire of Christ the King includes not only Catholic nations” but “the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.”
On the day of the 2016 election, a post titled “False Worship in the Secular State,” appeared on the SSPX U.S. District’s website. It quoted several popes on religious liberty, and ended with the following statement:
Although the faithful in the United States are far removed from the immediate possibility of living in a Catholic state, that does not mean that any Catholic has the right to accept indifferentism in religious matters. As the teachings of the Pope and the clear theological principles of the Church make clear, there is no right to false worship any more than there is a right to publicly professing error. As such, Catholics must be on guard against internalizing liberal ideology—an ideology which views all religion as essentially the same. Instead, Catholics should be vigilant in combating this attitude by living their lives in accordance with the precepts of the Church and taking every opportunity to profess the social Kingship of Christ, the true ruler of all the nations of the earth.
It shouldn’t have to be said that as Catholics it behooves us to live according to the teachings of the Catholic Church. However, as Michael Davies points out in that same essay:
No one claiming to be a Christian would, one hopes, dispute the fact that as individuals we must submit ourselves to the rule of Christ the King, but very few Christians, Catholics included, understand, let alone uphold, the Social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ. His social kingship can be implemented fully only when Church and State are united.
It is the false idea of liberty that America worships that must be challenged—this is the beast that lurks unchallenged and so is able to shut out our realization of true liberty and instead, keep us enslaved to man-made ideals.
Specifically, the idea of religious liberty in America reduces religion to mere opinion and denies that the state has a duty to profess religion, and not just any religion, but Catholicism. Hence, in America, religion becomes “merely a private hobby, worthy of being protected perhaps but not because it makes any truth claims to be taken seriously in the political or intellectual arena (Thomas Storck, From Christendom to Americanism and Beyond, 2015).
And, if anyone takes the time to trace the origins of religious liberty as understood in America they will find its foundation in the anti-Catholic revolutionary ideas of the 18th century Enlightenment. Catholics in America—and other western democracies—have embraced ideas about liberty that are founded upon anti-Catholic thought. This is a beast that must be reckoned with.
Trump, while aiming to protect the baker and the healthcare worker from being forced to act against their religious beliefs, hails the golden calf of religious liberty and fails to recognize that only by subjecting himself and the country to the authority and rule of God would the lives of the unborn be properly protected. Christ is King over us whether we acknowledge it or not, but by not acknowledging His Social Kingship, we fail to receive the blessings He would bestow upon a subject people.
Can we expect this much of our leaders in a “post-Christian,” secular age? Isn’t it enough that Trump has saved America from Hillary Clinton and has made some (confused) pro-life promises?
If we do not insist upon recognition of the Truth, will it ever be recognized? The word “compromise” sounds ugly to the true counter-revolutionary, as it would have to the Christian martyrs who died slow and painful deaths at the hands of the enemy.
If we work toward building up a new Christendom under the Social Kingship of Christ, there will be no need for a pro-life movement. Gone will be the endless legislative battles, the strategizing and lobbying and fundraising, and what we will have instead is not a utopian paradise where abortions never occur, but a Christian civilization—a Catholic social order—where all are subject to Christ the King and the teachings of His Church. In the words of Pope Pius XI from his encyclical on Christ’s Kingship, Quas Primas:
When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony… If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquillity, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent.
In a recent article that appeared on The Human Life Review website, Nicholas Frankovich makes a case for sticking to a long term strategy if Roe v. Wade is indeed overturned. Frankovich urges the pro-life movement to stick to an incrementalist strategy because to do otherwise would provoke a pro-abortion “backlash.” After mentioning some of the recent polling data he notes, “Support for a ban on government funding of abortion is strong, but so is opposition to a total ban on the procedure. Welcome to American libertarianism.”
Frankovich’s argument for sticking to strategy sounds reasonable enough to the ears of any levelheaded pro-life advocate. Yet, while stating the problem of America’s “libertarianism,” Frankovich doesn’t address how to deal with the libertarian spirit of Americans that underpins legal abortion. Will the sound strategy and legislative maneuvering he outlines ever change the liberty-loving heart of America? It’s doubtful. He admits himself that “politics is downstream of culture.”
The beast that must be challenged is America’s Godlessness as a nation (not necessarily as individuals), as written into its Constitution. The Godless idea of freedom that flows in America’s veins since its founding can only be transformed by turning back to God. This doesn’t mean more people going to church on Sunday, or protecting bakers and healthcare workers from having to act against their conscience. It requires reconciling the country to Christ’s Kingship, and submitting to His rule. It can happen. Thomas Storck recently wrote about Europe, “If we find the notion of a resurrection of Christendom too daunting a task to think seriously about, then we might as well sit back and watch as secular Europe dies. For there is no other task that is worthwhile, and none other for which divine assistance has been promised.” In the U.S. we cannot speak of a “resurrection” of Christendom since a Catholic social order never existed in America. Such a country can, however, be converted—if only we would recognize this as the task at hand.