Charles Camosy, Dallas Morning News
If being pro-life means anything beyond working to elect Republicans, it means protecting and supporting the most vulnerable, especially when, as Pope Francis has emphasized, they are at risk of being “thrown away” or otherwise threatened with violence.
And though it has obvious implications for abortion, this kind of moral vision goes well beyond a single issue. It is difficult to get more pro-life than the U.S. Catholic bishops, whose Campaign in Support of Life defines a “wide spectrum of issues” involving “protection of human life and the promotion of human dignity.”
Enter Donald Trump, supposed pro-life convert.
One could be forgiven for having skepticism about such a conversion, not least because he appears to have little concern for the vulnerable who are at risk of being violently thrown away.
Trump has advocated killing the parents and children of terrorists. He has repeatedly asked why we can’t use nuclear weapons. He mocks the disabled, runs a modeling agency that, according to Mother Jones, treats employees like slaves, and wants to change the laws to make torture legal.
And who could forget the position that put his campaign in the media spotlight: calling for a “deportation force” to throw out 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The pro-life movement is not a monolith, of course, and some reject the U.S. bishops’ consistent ethic of life. But even for single-issue pro-lifers, Trump’s views present serious problems.
Before his quite convenient conversion, Trump had a very clear position on abortion. In 1999, he said on Meet the Press that he was “very pro-choice” in “every respect.” He even supported allowing a procedure sometimes referred to as partial-birth abortion, but people who don’t sugarcoat the procedure call it infanticide. Before he realized he needed the pro-life movement on his side to win the election, Trump suggested, in an interview with Bloomberg, his pro-choice sister as an example of someone he might nominate for the Supreme Court.
Understandably, given that they are temporary election props, Trump’s post-conversion views on abortion have been confused and even incoherent.
It was therefore remarkable that pro-life groups like Priests for Life and the Susan B. Anthony List managed to find ways to get behind Trump. And even the National Right to Life Committee came out in support of Trump. With NRLC on board, Trump’s pro-life support is officially mainstream.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the whole movement has been taken in by Trump’s shift. Perhaps the most important pro-life public intellectual in the country, Princeton’s Robert George, has rightly said in a column published by First Things that Trump “is not one of us.” One of Trump’s fiercest critics, Russell Moore, is the head of the (very pro-life) public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. And the U.S. Catholic bishops are definitely not Trump supporters.
Trump’s candidacy has split the Republican Party in ways that threaten its existence, and now, his candidacy has split the pro-life community. If the movement is to survive the breaking of the fault lines exposed by the 2016 election cycle, it will naturally evolve into something quite different. If pro-lifers have any hope of speaking to a new generation we will have to abandon some fundamental assumptions belonging to the culture wars of the 1970s.
Happily, not that far below the surface, there are a number of exciting and creative movements bubbling up that are already shaping a newer and better pro-life movement.
One is run by the dynamic young feminists of Life Matters Journal, a group dedicated to resisting what it calls “aggressive violence” in all its forms: abortion, euthanasia, drone strikes, the death penalty, suicide, sexual violence and much more. Another fast-rising group, Secular Pro-Life, has done groundbreaking work, including a fantastic awareness-raising and story-telling initiative leading up to the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment on September 30th.
Beyond these two, the list of culture-war-busting pro-life groups includes Feminists for Non-Violent Choices, Pax Christi, Public Faith, the Catholic Worker, Feminists for Life, Democrats for Life, the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, Pro-Life Humanists and many more.
Such groups were marginalized under the old guard, but the great crack-up of 2016 has given a large number of pro-lifers several reasons to start thinking more creatively about the movement. Indeed, many are even beginning to think about starting a new political “party of life” that would ignore outdated political assumptions and bring pro-life values into the public sphere in ways that are not beholden to the culture wars.
It is not easy when a very important movement, one that has persisted for nearly four decades, is forced to confront its own mortality. But if the old pro-life movement is indeed not long for this world, this would not be 100 percent bad news. The movement that will replace it will not only be more authentically and consistently pro-life, it will be far better able to win the hearts and minds of the next generation.
Charles C. Camosy is an associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University in New York. His most recent book is Beyond the Abortion Wars: a Way Forward for a New Generation. Email: email@example.com