Trump’s Critical Remarks of Post-Roe Legislation
“Consequently, laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before the law. … Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead, there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection.”
─ Pope St. John Paul II, Evangelium vitae
In June 2022, the United States Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand in the country.
In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court justices pointed out the obvious, i.e., that a constitutional “right” to abortion was fabricated out of thin air by the 1973 justices. A “right” to abortion, they noted, was neither “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history or tradition,” nor was it recognized when the Due Process Clause was ratified in 1868.
With the demise of Roe last year, the fight for the right of the preborn has entered a new stage. The horror of Roe is that for fifty years it imposed an extreme abortion regime on the entire country. Under Roe, pro-life states were actively forbidden from protecting the right to life of the preborn prior to the point of viability, which is around 23 weeks gestation.
However, as I have emphasized so often over the past year, while the fall of Roe is some of the best news the pro-life movement has received in decades, it is also only a beginning.
With Roe in place, it was extremely difficult for the pro-life movement to make meaningful legislative progress. Now, however, individual states have the freedom to pass just about any pro-life laws they like, up to and including banning all abortions. Some states have already taken the opportunity to do just that, and the evidence suggests that such laws may already have saved the lives of tens of thousands of preborn children.
The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that even with Roe gone, it is also possible for the pro-life progress of the past few decades to be reversed. While states can now pass strong pro-life laws, there is nothing stopping them from passing horrific pro-abortion laws, including allowing abortion on demand all the way up to birth. Tragically, such laws are in place in both New York and California, the most populous states in the Union.
The practical upshot of this situation is two-fold: Firstly, with the fall of Roe, it is more important than ever that the pro-life movement focus on persuading both legislators and ordinary Americans of the grave evil of abortion. We cannot expect to pass strong, life-saving pro-life laws in more states, if the voters and the legislators in those states do not clearly see that abortion is a grave violation of the human rights of the most innocent among us. They must understand and be fully convicted of the fact that abortion is not simply another political issue, but rather an urgent moral crisis that demands resolution.
And secondly, we must make progress in protecting the right to life of the preborn in federal law. After all, there is no more fundamental purpose of law than to protect the single most fundamental right of human beings, without which no other right can exist: i.e., the right to life. The fact that federal law does not recognize or protect the right to life of fully alive, genetically unique, vulnerable human beings is a grave travesty that must be reversed.
Trump: Heartbeat Bill a “Terrible” Thing
For these reasons, I have been gravely disappointed by President Trump’s recent remarks calling Florida’s six-week abortion ban “terrible,” and rejecting the idea that abortion should be banned in federal legislation.
In a recent interview with Meet the Press, Trump was asked about the law signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that bans abortion after the point when the baby’s heartbeat can be detected, i.e., about six weeks.
Florida’s law is one of several Heartbeat Bills that have been passed in pro-life states. Such laws not only have the effect of banning almost all abortions, but they also serve the admirable purpose of educating voters about the humanity of the preborn child.
In his remarks, however, President Trump treated the issue as if it was purely a business negotiation. While acknowledging that most people are opposed to abortions late in pregnancy, the president suggested that people on both sides of the political aisle will decide on “a number” of weeks at which abortion will be banned, at which point the issue can be “put behind us.”
When asked whether he would sign a bill into law that bans abortion after 15 weeks (a point after which even many European nations ban abortion), Trump refused to say that he would. Instead, he criticized Gov. DeSantis for signing the Heartbeat Bill, calling this a “terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”
Then, when later asked whether he thought that preborn children have constitutional rights, instead of answering the question Trump took the opportunity to emphasize that he supports “exceptions” to abortion laws, including for rape and incest (Abortion is never morally permissible; rape and incest do not justify the killing an innocent preborn child).
These latest remarks are simply the strongest confirmation that Trump is crafting his position on abortion in response to opinion polls. Earlier this year, for instance, pro-life activists were disappointed when Trump blamed the pro-life movement’s convicted stance against the killing of preborn children for GOP losses during last year’s mid-term elections.
Pro-life Movement Responds
Trump has often described himself as “the most pro-life president ever.” In fact, his spokesman said just that recently, ironically in a statement to The Washington Post explaining that Trump believes that the abortion issue should be decided by the states, not the federal government.
Certainly, no one would dispute that Trump is in part responsible for the overturning of Roe. While many Republican presidents in recent decades promised to nominate U.S. Supreme Court justices that would overturn Roe, he was the first to actually do so. I am extremely grateful to him for that.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how any president can claim to be the “most pro-life president ever,” if he refuses to answer basic questions such as whether the preborn have constitutional rights, or if he actually proactively criticizes other politicians for passing life-saving pro-life laws.
I am not the only pro-life leader who was surprised and horrified by Trump’s remarks. In the wake of those remarks, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, released a statement. “President Trump’s assertion that the Supreme Court returned the issue of abortion solely to the states is a completely inaccurate reading of the Dobbs decision and is a morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate to hold,” said Dannenfelser.
“Life is a matter of human rights, not states’ rights. Saying that the issue should only be decided at the states is an endorsement of abortion up until the moment of birth, even brutal late-term abortions in states like California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey. The only way to save these children is through federal protections…”
Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life Action, agreed. “The Pro-Life Generation will not support any candidate for President who doesn’t agree that abortion is a federal, state and local issue,” she said. “To be clear, any federal candidate running for office must support at MINIMUM a federal heartbeat abortion protection act to earn our votes.”
Lila Rose, the president of Live Action, called Trump’s remarks, “Pathetic and unacceptable.” The irony, she noted, is that “Trump is actively attacking the very pro-life laws made possible by Roe’s overturning.”
“Heartbeat Laws have saved thousands of babies,” she added. “But Trump wants to compromise on babies’ lives so pro-abort Dems ‘like him.’”
Trump’s Disappointing Change Since 2016
Reading the President Trump’s remarks, I was struck that they came so close to so-called “International Safe Abortion Day.”
The fundamental issue for pro-abortion activists is keeping abortion legal at all costs, convincing the public abortion is acceptable so long as it is “safe.” However, pro-life activists know that no abortion is truly “safe.” Every single successful abortion results in the death of an innocent preborn child. And even when the mother is physically unscathed, there are always hidden scars: the psychological and spiritual scars that sometimes never heal.
Trump’s words suggest that he, too, is willing to accept the killing of preborn children in certain cases, so long as it is “safe”: that is, so long as it is politically safe.
In Evangelium vitae, however, Pope St. John Paul II decried the fact that “the original and inalienable right to life is questioned or denied on the basis of a parliamentary vote or the will of one part of the people—even if it is the majority.” In other words, the sainted pope was horrified that this urgent moral issue was being reduced to simply another political question, subject to public opinion.
I vividly remember Trump’s words during a debate with Hilary Clinton on October 20, 2016. In his remarks, Trump lambasted Hilary’s position on the issue. “Based on what she is saying, and based on where she’s going and where she’s been,” Trump told the moderator, “you can take a baby and rip the baby out of the womb. In the ninth month, on the final day and that’s not acceptable.”
Trump’s use of that potent phrase—“rip the baby out of the womb”—was one of the most vivid and effective uses of language on the issue I’ve ever heard in a political debate. In those remarks, Trump rightly drew attention to both the humanity of the preborn child (a “baby”!), and the inherent, grotesque violence of abortion.
With Roe gone, this is the sort of morally convicted language that we need to hear from our politicians. Unfortunately, however, far too many supposedly “pro-life” politicians have refused to demonstrate moral leadership on the issue, by proactively educating voters. Rather than seeking to turn the public tide by employing the best, most effective arguments and evidence for the humanity of the preborn child, they instead read the results of opinion polls, and craft their messaging accordingly.
In this historical moment, what we urgently need are politicians who are willing and able to be powerful spokespeople for the preborn child. It is no longer enough to quietly make backroom deals with the pro-life movement for support in exchange for modest legislative gains. What we need are effective, educated, and compassionate advocates for preborn children.
Let us pray for President Trump, all the other GOP presidential nominees, and for the outcome of the 2024 election. Let us pray that God will raise up effective, convicted moral leaders among our political class, who can lead the notion forward from Roe into a time when not only do we permit states to protect human life, but rather that our nation as a whole enshrines the fundamental right to life of every human being, including the preborn child, in law.
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Father Shenan J. Boquet was ordained in 1993 and is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Roman Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, his home state, where he served before joining HLI as its President in August 2011. Father Boquet earned a BA from Saint Joseph Seminary College, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology, a Certification Program in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and a Master of Science in Bioethics (MSBe) from the University of Mary in Bismarck. In 2018, Father Boquet was awarded an honorary visiting professorship by the Benedict XVI Catholic University in Trujillo, Peru. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.