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Pro-Life Presidents

February 15, 2020 (1,646 words)

There was a surprise guest at the March For Life in Washington, D.C. last month, a boisterous rally held annually on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Traveling from various regions of the country, a multitude of pro-life faithful gather in the nation’s capital every year to protest this 1973 ruling and to stand for life. The festivities always begin at the National Mall, where a stage is erected for the day, and various speakers do their best to address the throng.

That’s followed by a march down Constitution Avenue NW, which turns right at First Street NE, and then ends on the steps of the Supreme Court Building.

But just getting from all those chartered buses to the Mall involves a good stretch of the legs.

After that brisk walk, almost a run in some cases, many of these earnest attendees find themselves milling about aimlessly in the cold and the damp and frequently in the mud, since the National Mall is a sprawling gathering place. Unless you are in the immediate vicinity of the stage, you can’t see or even hear the speakers very well.

In all these years there has been one person conspicuously absent from the proceedings: the President of the United States. Even though three Republicans have held the office since 1973, and all three claimed to be staunchly pro-life, none of them ever managed the trip from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue before last month.

In many of those years – a total of twenty-three, all told – our supposedly pro-life commander-in-chief conspired to be out of town altogether on that particular day.

But this time around the iconoclast Donald Trump “actually came out, stood in solidarity with, and spoke directly to the hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers massed for the annual March For Life,” as one effusive Catholic journalist exclaimed.

(Editor’s Note: The March For Life, and the pro-life movement as a whole, has never been exclusively Catholic. But it has always been predominantly Catholic.)

A chorus of similar reports has surfaced in the conservative Catholic press, declaring President Trump’s guest spot to be nothing less than an historic, game-changing event. Take Marc Thiessen, the Washington Post columnist and American Enterprise Institute scholar, who wrote:

”Then along came Trump, a man who doesn’t care what the Republican establishment thinks. He has embraced the pro-life movement in a way no other president has.”

This single sighting, and this one speech, has convinced a coterie of Catholic commentators that President Trump is “not just willing to push pro-life policies, but he also considers himself one of us.” The general consensus after January 24 is that Mr. Trump “is the most pro-life president in history.”

Talk about letting oneself get carried away by the emotion of the moment…

While acknowledging the speech was no doubt written by an aide, one account gave the President high marks for delivering it “with heartfelt passion and a real sense of conviction.” Many passages waxed poetic “in ways that captured the real heart of the pro-life movement.” Passages like this:

”When we see the image of a baby in the womb, we glimpse the majesty of God’s creation. When we hold a newborn in our arms, we know the endless love that each child brings to a family. When we watch a child grow, we see the splendor that radiates from each human soul.”

These sentiments are certainly true and beautiful. But they hardly amount to a bold new statement of principle that will set the national debate on a different course. One might even say all President Trump did was successfully recite a sort of beginner’s boiler-plate.

That this is enough to convince pro-lifers they are no longer being treated as second-class citizens by the Republican Party demonstrates just how delusional they are about their place in the present-day landscape of liberal democracy.

Though these dedicated souls may be loath to admit it, the odds are not in favor of the pro-life movement at this point. We are always being told the general population is “trending pro-life,” or “trending pro-choice,” depending on who is commissioning the poll.

The fact is there is a minority of citizens who have an unshakable belief that abortion is murder. And an equivalent minority that believes in a woman’s right to choose. The vast majority, however, are kind of squeamish on the subject and would prefer not to think about it.

They vacillate between the moral imperative against abortion any decent person instinctively feels, and the pursuit of happiness we’ve all been pledging allegiance to since birth.

a movement that captures the American ethos…

This majority has a hard time refuting the latest tagline of the pro-choice crowd: “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.” Because, after all, it perfectly captures the American ethos, doesn’t it?

So infanticide is just another line item on the larger, cultural legal brief of “custom, law, and tradition” versus “we get to do whatever we want.”

As for President’ Trump’s unprecedented January 24 appearance representing an audacious disregard for the Republican establishment, as the Washington Post’s Marc Thiessen would have it – well, I think a more sober analysis of the political calculus is in order.

Let’s acknowledge how Trump steered clear of the March during the first three years of his administration, following in the footsteps of his Republican predecessors. Now, his re-election looms.

Consider, too, how Mr. Trump has already strategically appeased his party’s establishment, by way of his landmark tax cut. The fiscal conservatives have been placated. The stock market is churning along. The abortion question has once again been relegated to sideshow status, of little import to the well-heeled.

From their perspective, if President Trump’s nifty two-step at the March For Life helps lock in a key demographic that allows the Republican establishment to retain its hold over economic policy, then by all means go ahead and throw the poor bastards a bone.


This brings our discussion to the next set of considerations. Not all pro-life advocates are poor bastards, are they? In fact some are doing quite well for themselves, thank you very much. And this complicates the issue no end.

Those who aren’t poor – who are, in fact, cruising along on auto-pilot – are in agreement with the logic behind the landmark tax cut. Their fortunes have risen as a result of those cuts.

They also naturally agree with the latest Republican talking point that “the economy is booming.” Since for them, it is.

As for everybody else’s fortunes, it seems the well-off are easily reassured on this score. Establishment types eagerly gobble up that other new talking point: “Wages are rising, especially among low-wage workers.”

This is the data-driven position of Marc Thiessen and his fellow scholars over at The American Enterprise Institute, for instance.

Here I wish to point out – merely in the interest of being objective, and without wanting to come off as overly critical – the Marc Thiessens of this world get to live relatively high on the hog, and are therefore out of touch with the financial realities faced by the vast majority of their countrymen.

The well-off are blind to how the system that is working so well for them is failing so many of their neighbors.

pro-lifers of modest means and the even-less-advantaged…

What’s strange in all this is the attitude of those “poor bastards,” the pro-lifers who hail from more modest backgrounds, and who in many cases are living a paycheck-to-paycheck existence.

These salt-of-the-earth types are oddly numb to any discussion of economic fair play, and how the lack thereof impacts their righteous cause.

While paying their own bills may be a daunting monthly challenge, they do not fully appreciate how the financial straits the even-less-advantaged confront can seem downright insurmountable.

Financially strapped, with the cards stacked firmly against them, and no prospect for anything better down the road – such folks cannot imagine a scenario in which they could afford the luxury of bringing a child – or yet another child – into this world.

Yes, this still leaves a segment of the population who chose to abort for lifestyle reasons. But I will tell you it is the fiscal libertines who are driving this callousness. It is they who have created and ensconced the culture of me first and the hell with everybody else.

While it has obviously infected a notable swath of highly-educated and career-minded women, it’s actually been our Type A men – movers and shakers who are the stuff of legend – leading the way.

And here we confront a curiosity that has gone largely unnoticed.

the role of fiscal libertines…

Social conservatives rail against the women’s movement and the sexual revolution as responsible for legalized abortion. But they dismiss any consideration of the role fiscal conservatives – a special breed of libertine – have played in this regrettable turn of events.

Fiscal conservatives have engineered an equivalent revolution in the way business is conducted. They have shredded the social contract and wreaked havoc among us. This havoc has paved the way for our current disdain.

To conclude, then, overturning Roe v. Wade remains a worthy legal objective. But if you think that’s going to solve the problem you are sadly mistaken.

If we don’t recalibrate the economic equation, and re-introduce a sense of justice into everyday life, all this long-sought-after repeal will do is kick off a civil war.

So, thank you President Trump, for finally showing up and sharing a few inspiring words with the pro-life diaspora. But forgive me if I don’t give your ceremonial gesture a standing ovation.

This pro-life advocate of a Catholic persuasion will sit up and start to take notice as soon as you push for a steep carbon tax on the energy industry, and suggest stricter anti-trust legislation for our giant tech firms. And that’s just for starters.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
February 15, 2020

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