In the aftermath of this month’s March for Life, and exacerbated by a now-infamous incident involving a group of Catholic high school students in MAGA hats, questions are once again being raised about the appropriateness of the pro-life movement’s widespread support for and identification with President Trump.
Writing for the Washington Post last week, columnist Michael Gerson argued that, despite the gains made under Trump, pro-lifers would ultimately pay a price for their association with his problematic politics, trading away their “moral reputation” for material victory. The Catholic Bishop of Lexington, Ky., John Stowe, made a related argument in responding to the Covington controversy, writing that “we cannot uncritically ally ourselves with” President Trump given his rhetoric and policies on immigration as well as other issues. Similar cases to these have been made throughout Trump’s presidency.
It all goes back to a typical trope used to bash the pro-life movement: the “consistent life ethic.” According to this argument, in order to be morally consistent, pro-lifers must give equal attention to all issues that have a bearing on the dignity of human life – including abortion, of course, but also foreign conflicts, economic inequality, and even immigration. To focus primarily on abortion, so the argument goes, is to undermine the truly pro-life cause.
(Curiously, this “ethic” has rarely been applied to those on the pro-abortion side. Is not the progressive cause sullied by leaders like Andrew Cuomo, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker who support the legal destruction of unborn lives up until birth?)
The problem for those who would make this argument, such as Gerson and Bishop Stowe, is that not all these issues are morally equivalent. Unlike abortion, which is always and everywhere wrong and therefore requires legal prohibition, issues such as economic inequality and immigration are much more complex, calling for prudential policymaking on which people of good will can and do disagree. And although mistaken economic or immigration policy may degrade the dignity of human beings, the continued legality of abortion is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands every year. Regarding the level of moral urgency, there is simply no comparison.
And when it comes to the political reality in America, there is only one party and one presidential candidate who have provided pro-lifers with an even remote opportunity to end the scourge of abortion. While every prominent Democrat has made it abundantly clear that they support unlimited access to abortion up until the moment of birth, President Trump and Republicans have taken concrete steps toward defeating abortion, restricting its promotion by government and, most importantly, appointing justices to the Supreme Court who may help chip away or even overturn Roe v. Wade. Given this reality, it is no surprise that pro-lifers have chosen to identify with and support the party and president who have advanced their goals.
Nor should they be chastised for doing so. Because despite President Trump’s personal moral failings, problematic rhetoric, and occasional bad policy, nothing he has said or done comes close to outweighing the good he has, and still stands to, accomplish in the cause of defending unborn life. Whatever “reputation” pro-lifers are likely to lose (mostly among the elite) for their association with Trump, it will be more than made up for if the president and Republicans are ultimately successful in ending America’s shameful decades-long legal sanction of abortion.
In his column, Gerson wrote that to empathize with someone with whom you don’t agree requires “imagination.” Well perhaps he, Bishop Stowe, and others could use some imagination to picture the systematic annihilation of hundreds of thousands of innocent children each year, which is why so many pro-lifers have rallied to President Trump – and why elite thought leaders are wrong to criticize them.
Frank Cannon is the president of American Principles Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @frankcannonAPP.