Trump’s Big Abortion Announcement Is a Big Disappointment

EDITORIAL: While the Vatican’s document ‘Dignitas Infinita’ is morally coherent, the Republican presidential candidate’s abortion-related announcement, issued the same day, was anything but.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives at the Atlanta Airport on April 10, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives at the Atlanta Airport on April 10, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. (photo: Megan Varner / Getty)

On April 8, both the Vatican and former president Donald Trump issued major pronouncements on abortion and other life issues, adding an extra dose of drama to Total Solar Eclipse Day here in the U.S.

There was a lot to digest.

The good news is that the Vatican’s declaration, titled Dignitas Infinita, is a robust reiteration of the Church’s consistent teaching against abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, surrogacy, poverty, gender ideology and other grave attacks on human dignity.

The bad news, in the view of many in the pro-life movement, is that Trump revealed he doesn’t favor a federal abortion ban, preferring to have individual states pass their own laws.

Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and Lila Rose of Live Action were among the pro-life leaders sharply critical of the former president, accusing him of choosing political pragmatism over principled leadership in defense of the right to life.

Two days later, they had further cause for chagrin when Trump joined abortion proponents in decrying a surprising court ruling in Arizona that restored the state’s 1864 near-total ban on abortion that was still on the books in 1973, when the landmark Roe v. Wade decision barred such state restrictions, saying the ruling “went too far.” He also clarified that, if elected, he wouldn’t sign a federal 15-week limit on abortion if Congress managed to pass one.

Trump’s bid to pivot the Republican Party’s abortion policy toward the center may or may not prove shrewd politically, as polls show that abortion is the only high-ranking issue where he doesn’t have an edge over President Joe Biden in seven critical battleground states. But it effectively means that the pro-life movement has lost its national (albeit fickle) standard-bearer heading into the November election, which includes another round of consequential state abortion ballot measures. 

It was an odd coincidence that Trump’s announcement and the Vatican’s document landed on the same day. The latter contained no major surprises, but it cogently demonstrates how the Church’s positions on a host of seemingly disparate hot-button life issues share a common taproot: a profound respect for man’s inherent, inalienable, God-given dignity.

But while Dignitas is morally coherent, Trump’s announcement was, regrettably, anything but. Like the Vatican document, Trump tried to frame his position with an overarching theme: the will of the people. 

“The states will determine by vote or legislation or perhaps both, and whatever they decide must be the law of the land,” he said. “At the end of the day,” he emphasized, “this is all about the will of the people.”

To be sure, Trump hasn’t always been the most articulate spokesman for the pro-life cause. And it’s debatable whether a 15-week national ban, which wouldn’t prevent most abortions, is the most prudent policy to pursue. Still, it’s distressing to hear Trump speak about abortion the way he did. 

What if the will of the people is to allow abortion at any stage for any reason? If Trump believes the right to life is truly inalienable, how can he be content for the unborn to be protected in some states and left utterly defenseless in others?

While Trump encouraged states to “do the right thing,” he never actually said what that right thing is. “You must follow your heart on this issue. But remember,” he stressed, “you must also win elections to restore our culture and, in fact, to save our country, which is currently, and very sadly, a nation in decline.”

Also distressing is that Trump used the occasion to urge full-throttle Republican support for in vitro fertilization. He appears to be uninformed or uninterested in the fact that IVF causes the mass destruction of human life, or that the law in Alabama he praised in his April 8 announcement makes IVF clinics that destroy or lose track of embryonic children through negligence totally immune from parents’ liability claims. How is that a pro-family position?

The pro-life movement owes a huge debt of gratitude to Trump for delivering on his promise to overturn Roe through his three solid appointments to the Supreme Court. And there is no question that his recalibrated stance remains a far cry from Biden’s pledge to restore Roe as the law of the land.

But that doesn’t mean Trump can’t be criticized when he speaks in such a muddled way about the sacredness of life. Going forward, we can only hope he’ll exhibit greater clarity, wisdom and leadership on this crucial issue. It would help if he could find the time to read Dignitas Infinita.