WASHINGTON — The election of Donald Trump to the presidency gave hope to many in the pro-life movement that they had passed through the Obama years resurgent and renewed in strength. But in the wake of the collapse of the congressional effort to reform Obamacare, some are questioning how much has actually been accomplished in the first nine months of his presidency.
Trump’s September 2016 letter to pro-life voters made four promises that would protect unborn life to an extent not seen since Roe v. Wade. But the legislation that he promised to sign in that letter — such as making the Hyde Act permanent, defunding Planned Parenthood and outlawing abortion after 20 weeks — has seen little action, even in the House of Representatives, a body comparatively more pro-life than the Senate, though the U.S. House passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on Tuesday.
So, while pro-life organizations have been disappointed by the failure to send more bills to the president’s desk, there have been successes to celebrate.
Mallory Quigley, the communications director for the Susan B. Anthony List, told the Register that the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was a “huge victory,” along with the legislation that allows states to deny Planned Parenthood Title X funding. Title X provides $60 million out of the more than $550 million received annually by Planned Parenthood from federal, state and local governments.
At the same time, she said, “we are incredibly disappointed that we have a pro-life president and a pro-life Congress, and yet somehow the nation’s largest abortion business is still being funded at the rate of a million and a half dollars a day.”
The Planned Parenthood Problem
The Republican struggle to pass health care reform, to which they tied defunding Planned Parenthood, ended in the last week of September, the last week of the congressional fiscal year.
Brendan O’Morchoe, the vice president of strategy with Students for Life of America, told the Register that his group was “very frustrated” with the failure to defund Planned Parenthood.
“It’s Congress’ failure that is holding things back,” he said.
The legislative strategy chosen to repeal the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood for a year, known as reconciliation, would have allowed Republicans to pass their bill with simple majorities in the House and Senate. Defunding Planned Parenthood could not be passed on its own because of the lack of 60 votes in the Senate, and it did not qualify to be passed as a stand-alone reconciliation bill because it affected less than $2 billion in federal spending.
Defunding Planned Parenthood remains a top priority goal of the pro-life movement, as well. SBA List, Students for Life and March for Life have all called upon Republicans to include defunding provisions in the tax reform bill, which is expected to be passed under reconciliation rules to avoid a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.
But some prominent conservative pro-life members of Congress have not agreed to that approach. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the Senate Majority Whip, told The Hill, “I don’t think we should do anything that compromises passing tax reform.” U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, similarly did not foresee defunding Planned Parenthood being added to tax reform.
Quigley said that pro-life individuals, because of their fierceness and loyalty in campaigns, deserve the “fidelity” of pro-life politicians.
“SBA list is all about holding people accountable for the positions that they make, especially when running campaigns,” she said. Politicians need to pass legislation that saves lives, she said. “If we have the opportunity to save just one, then we need to take that opportunity.”
Aside from the legislation that allows states to deny Planned Parenthood Title X funds, pro-life bills have languished in Congress since the beginning of the year. H.R. 7, which permanently prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion, passed the House on Jan. 24. Speaker Paul Ryan released a statement the same day that said “we must never forget that defending all of our people — especially the defenseless — must be our top priority if we want to be a good and moral nation.” The bill has sat in the Senate Finance Committee since Jan. 30.
H.R.36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which criminalizes abortion after 20 weeks, except in cases of incest, rape, or to save the mother’s life, finally passed the House Oct. 3, after being introduced Jan. 3. The Trump administration released a letter Oct. 2 “strongly supporting” the legislation and applauded the House of Representatives for “its efforts to secure critical pro-life protections.” President Trump committed himself in 2016 to signing the bill if it passes the Senate. When asked Monday by CNN, however, Cornyn said the legislation was “not a near-term priority” for the Senate.
Since the beginning of the year, the Trump administration has by executive action reinstated the Mexico City Policy preventing recipients of federal funding from supporting abortion internationally, and ended U.S. support for the United Nations Population Fund.
Pro-Life in 2017
Political lobbying has been an integral part of the pro-life movement since Roe v. Wade changed the constitutional interpretation of personhood.
But O’Morchoe said that while there was a reasonable frustration with politicians, “politics isn’t the answer to everything.” Organizations like Students for Life, he said, are focused on changing the culture. Passing legislation without changing how life is valued could lead to gains that get reversed by the next generation.
Despite the disappointments of the year, he said there are significant signs of hope. The pro-life movement, he said, is “absolutely” the strongest it has ever been. The administration contained several pro-life figures, like Vice President Mike Pence, and pro-life sentiment has been steadily growing in the country.
“We’re only getting stronger,” he said. “We’re nowhere near the peak.”
Part of the strength of the pro-life movement has been the multiple approaches it has taken to achieving a pro-life society, said Monica Miller, the director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society.
“The incredible diversity that we have in terms of pro-life apostolates is very healthy and necessary. There are so many facets in what we’re doing in ending abortion; we have to have that diversity,” she said.
Miller helped organize the Sept. 15 “Red Rose Rescues,” in which pro-life individuals entered facilities to talk directly to women about alternatives to abortion.
“Our goal is to talk to the moms in the waiting room and offer them our love, our help, our encouragement and persuade them to come out with us,” she said.
Mary Wagner’s Example
The rescues, which occurred at three sites in Michigan, New Mexico, and Virginia, ended with multiple arrests of the pro-life activists.
Miller said that the Red Rose Rescues were inspired in part by the example of Mary Wagner, a Canadian pro-life activist who has been repeatedly jailed for entering clinics to discourage women from abortion.
Abby McIntyre, a 20-year-old university sophomore who participated in the rescues, drew a distinction between the old “Rescue” movement, which physically blocked access to abortion clinics, and the Red Rose Rescues.
“We went to them, not to bar them from getting an abortion, but sat next to them and offered them love, and hoped and prayed that they would choose those other options,” she told the Register. The Red Rose Rescues are part of a trend in pro-life witness to “find new, creative ways” to support women and the unborn in choosing life, she said.
McIntyre said that the pro-life movement needs to continue to work on all open fronts. “Red Rose Rescues would be pointless if there weren’t pregnancy-care centers, and legislation would be pointless if we didn’t have things like outreach to students,” she said.
“There’s no one way to end abortion and to change our culture.”
Nicholas Wolfram Smith writes from Oakland, California.